The Dragons of Keanna - Book II
by Jandar Tyr
Flying through the night, Valkar, Azeal, and the Shadows arrived at the cottage just before daylight. They were all tired from the long flight and in need of rest. Pelic hurried to the door and knocked. He had been worried about Athene. For some reason he was sure she was in some kind of trouble. Pelic hadn't told anyone how he felt for Athene, he kept the feelings to himself. He never expected anything from her except friendship, no matter how he felt. Whenever he could, Pelic would spend all the time he could around her. He thought Graym knew, he couldn't hide much from him or Jayce. Being an angel, Jayce could sometime see things in people they didn't want to show. Once he caught Pelic staring at Athene. In Pelic's mind he heard.
[I can't.] Pelic answered in surprise. [Look at me, I'm a horror.]
[I think she will see beyond that.] Jayce sent. [She's not the kind of woman looking for anything but true feelings.]
[Athene is a wonderful beautiful woman.] Pelic told him. [She's been through alot in her life. How could I add my curse.]
[Curse?] The angel said. [You think you're cursed?]
[Yes, I do.] Jayce walked over to him and sat next to him. He reached out and took his right hand and turned it palm up. In the center of his hand blazed the Salvation stone glowing blue. [You know what this is?]
[Yes, it's the Salvation stone.] He answered.
[It's one of our strongest weapons.] Jayce told him. [It cleanses your soul and it will break any curse put on you. So think about it. If you ever were cursed, it's long gone now.]
Pelic look at him in shock. He understood what Jayce was saying, but he still felt something was wrong. If that was true, then why did he still have the opaque face? Why was it all people saw of him was the shadow? Again Jayce caught Pelic's thought.
[Maybe it's because of your own fears.] He said with a smile. [You're afraid of our rejection of you. But you shouldn't be. We all accept you as you are. It's time you accept yourself. Believe it or not, but I know you’re stronger than any shadow magic you possess. There’s much more than shadows in your heart. We all know that, It’s time you know it too.]
Pelic thought about what Jayce had told him for a long time. He knew it was true, his doubts were what was holding him back. He made the decisions right there and then. No more feeling sorry for himself. He was Pelic, one of New Keanna's Shadows of the Night. Time to be proud of it.
As Pelic and the others knocked on the cottage door, Ariel opened the door to greet them. One at a time she hugged all her brothers, including the king of Yadessa and showed them in. Right away, Pelic asked where Athene was.
"She must be in her bedroom." Ariel said. "I'll get her."
Ariel went upstairs to get Athene while Toric poured coffee and asked how their mission went. Valkar sat and sipped his coffee while Azeal brought Toric up to date with all the things that were going on. Pelic sat nervously waiting for Athene to come down. He had decided to tell her how he felt today. No more waiting.
"She's not here!!" Ariel yelled as she came down the stairs.
"What?" Pelic jumped up. "Where is she?"
"I don't know. Her bed hasn't been slept in." Ariel told them. "She must have left last night."
"She wouldn't have just left." Azeal said. "She knew we were coming."
"Bronson." Toric said. "He has to have something to do with it."
"Who?" Pelic asked. Toric told them all about the centaur Athene had met in the forest. They hadn't spent much time with him, but Athene seemed to trust him.
"There's something I should have noticed earlier." Toric said. "Cheshire didn't like him. That should have given me a warning something wasn't right."
"We have to find her now." Pelic said. "I'm going to call her."
There was no answer. He called again.[ ATHENE!!!]
He felt a lite touch of her mind. She was there but for some reason she couldn't answer. That scared Pelic even more.
"I'm sending out my hounds to find her." Pelic said. "Jayce, send your birds please."
"I'll let Jandar and Rage know what's happened." Azeal told them.
"We're going out to look for them." Toric said. "We should have watched her better."
"No." Valkar said. "It's not your fault. If she was in danger, she would have called you. She must have trusted this centaur. Wherever they are, they have a head start on us. Has anyone seen Cheshire?"
"No." Toric said. "He must have gone with them. If we can't find her, we should look for him."
"Good idea." Jayce said. "I know you all want to search, but we've been flying all night and we need rest."
Pelic looked at Jayce, as if to say he was fine to search. But Jayce disagreed.
"Cheshire is with her and he won't let her get hurt." He said. "Besides, I think I know what happened. Balthazar is behind this. He won't hurt her just yet. Get some rest and we'll all go after her. We need to be at fighting strength."
Galloping hard and fast, Athene on Bronson's back was amazed at his stamina. He had been running for hours with no break. She didn't understand how he did it. Beside him ran Cheshire. He also showed no sign of tiring. Athene thought it had to be magic, no one could run like that. She had offered to shift and travel as a mist or in her raven form, but Bronson wouldn't hear of it. They had been traveling all through the night and all morning. She tried to call out to the others and found she couldn't reach them. That bothered her. Something was blocking her communication. She could feel someone trying to contact her, she thought it was Pelic. She smiled at that. She liked him and wished it was him with her. Athene knew she had made a mistake in taking on this mission and should have waited for the others instead of rushing off. She knew that now. She worried that the three of them wouldn't be enough to free the white haired woman. But it was too late for those thoughts now, she was on her way. Next to her, Cheshire ran keeping pace with Bronson. Athene tugged on Bronson’s mane and he turned his ear towards her.
"It's time we took a break." She said. He nodded and began to slow to a trot. Up ahead he saw a lake and headed for it. As he stopped she climbed down and stretched. Cheshire went to the lake and drank deeply.
"We don't have far to go." Athene said. She pointed to the valley beyond the lake. "That's the beginning of Yadessa. Valkar's throne sits in a city along the river. That's where I expect Balthazar reigns now."
"We have to go further on than that." Bronson told her. "The castle where I saw her was to the west, by another lake. Bigger than this one."
"I know that lake." She said as she sat down. "That would be Castle Zlenka in the middle of the lake."
Suddenly a thought came to her. He hadn't told her before it was Castle Zlenka. That castle was surrounded by water. How could he have seen the woman there? What would he have been doing that far out in the lake? Something was not right about his story. Now she was sure she had made a mistake coming here with him. She smiled at Bronson. Cheshire came and stood by her side growling. She ran her hand along his back trying to calm him. She could feel him tense up. Something was wrong.
"From here we have to go slow and be careful." Athene said. "There will be people looking for me."
"Why?" He asked. "No one knows you’re here. We should be able to sneak right in without being noticed."
"You don't know much about us vampires do you?" She laughed. "Our senses are keen. We can feel each other's presence. Soon Balthazar will know I'm here."
[Cheshire, run!] She sent to him. [Into the forest, get the others. Bring them to me. Go!]
Quickly Cheshire bolted into the forest and away brushing past the centaur.
"Where's he going?" Bronson asked startled.
"I guess he's hungry and he's caught a scent." She said." He'll catch up with us later. Can I ask you a question?"
"Yes fair lady. I'm at your service." Bronson reached into his shoulder bag and took something out. It was some kind of amulet. He put it on around his neck.
"Why are you helping me?" She asked. "You don't know me and you have no reason to ally yourself to me."
"I suppose your pretty face isn't enough." Bronson grinned at her. "How about this. Your father's paying me. With that I can buy enough lands to start a Centaur nation of my own. Have a castle and a court. No more running in herds for us. I'll be a king just like your father."
Athene stood and stepped away from him. Her anger and disappointment flared in her face.
"My father's no king." She said. "He's an evil despot who rules by fear and pain. You think he's going to make you some kind of king? With what? I know many centaurs. They're honorable people. They're not going to follow a fool like you no matter how much land you have."
"We'll see." He said.
Athene spread her arms to shift and escape. Nothing happened. She tried to take her mist form. That didn't work either. She was trapped here with him. She looked around, ready to run.
"There's nowhere for you to get." Bronson told her. He pointed to the amulet he wore. "This prevents you from using your magic. I came prepared. You will ride on my back until we get back to Castle Zlenka. Then I will turn you over to Balthazar and get my reward. That will be the end. Let's go."
Not too far away in the bushes, Cheshire crouched and watched Athene and Bronson. He wanted to rush out and tear Bronson to pieces, but Athene had given him orders. He was to find the others and bring them to her, and that was what he would do. He had her scent and could find her no matter where Bronson took her, magic or not. Growling deep down in his chest, Cheshire watched as Athene mounted up on Bronson's back and he took off towards Yadessa. Cheshire turned and headed back towards the cottage. As he ran, he let out a piercing roar that every creature in the forest heard. It was a call to the others to let them know there was trouble.
High in the sky on Ariel's back, Toric rode in the search. Together with Pelic, Graym and Jayce they spread out to search all of the lands between Yadessa and the cottage. Below, Valkar and Azeal in wolf form covered the ground. Suddenly Toric heard something. It was a call he knew. It was Cheshire's call.
"I hear Cheshire calling." He told Ariel.
[Where is he?] She asked.
"Head over towards the lake." He told her. "And tell the others to meet us there."
Ariel tipped her wings and turned toward the lake slipping lower in the sky. Soon she was flying just above the trees and could see Jayce and the others coming to join them.
"There he is!!" Toric pointed to something they could see moving quickly through the forest. [Cheshire!!]
They all heard a roar as Cheshire ran into a clearing and reared up to greet them. Valkar and Azeal came running out of the trees as Ariel touched down. Toric jumped off her back as she shifted to her lovely elven form in her green tanned leathers. Together, she and Toric ran to Cheshire as Jayce and the Shadows landed with them. Pelic ran to them looking around for Athene.
"Where is she?" He asked. Cheshire roared as if he knew what they were asking.
"She's not here." Graym told him. "Look around."
Everyone spread out as they all began to search the area. Cheshire padded up to Pelic and tugged on his sleeve to get his attention. Pelic rubbed his head. Toric watched and wondered. He knew Cheshire was more than just an animal. But could he tell them where she was?
"He's trying to tell you something Pelic." Toric stopped him. From his eyes you could see the worry. Pelic was scared he wouldn't get to her in time to save her. Cheshire read his fears and whined and pulled again.
"I think we should follow him." Valkar said. "Cheshire's one of us. Trust him."
Azeal knelt and rubbed Cheshire's neck. He looked him in the eyes
"Do you know where she is?" He asked.
Cheshire gave off an affirmative hiss. Then he looked back to Pelic and took off into the forest toward Yadessa.
"Follow him." Pelic said as he launched himself into the air after Cheshire. Quick as they could, everyone followed.
The sound of footsteps could be heard echoing through the dungeon as Balthazar made his way down to see his captive. Things were going his way so far. Angela had been recaptured in a short period of time. The guard that had left her door ajar had been punished severely. Balthazar had taken him and used him in his magical experiments. He had him moved to his study where he tortured him then altered his body. His mind he dulled and made compliant to his orders but still he knew who and what he use to be. His body he altered until he was totally alien to anything else. He was made twice his size and weight with massive muscles. His body was made more insect like with claws and pincers though he still stood on two feet. A tail was added with a wicked stinger that split in two. The pain of remembrance was plain on his face as he stood ready to take up his new job as Balthazar's new bodyguard. Walking around him, Balthazar inspected his work. It looked strong he thought and it definitely would cast fear in anyone that saw it. Balthazar was pleased, he would have to make more like him. An army of these creatures would make him invincible. He might even be able to challenge a ... Oh but he stopped there. It was dangerous to think like that.
At the bottom of the stairs there was a door into the dungeon area. A guard stood there and snapped to attention as his king approached. Balthazar waved at him as he unlocked the door for him. Torches lit the corridor and rats ran as he made his way down the dank row of cells. The dungeon area was noisy with screams and moans of pain from the prisoners he kept there. These would be the recruits for his new creature army he thought as he made his way to Angela's cell. He stopped at her door and the guard that followed opened it for him. He stepped in and there she sat on the ledge by the recently uncovered shaft to the surface. The moonlight shining off her silver hair she was beautiful he thought. Too bad he could never trust her to leave this cell again.
"Lovely as always my dear." Balthazar smiled at her. Angela looked up at him and frowned.
"Go away." She said. "Just leave me alone to die."
"Oh no!" He said to her. "You can't die. I have a lot more to heap on you. I told you I'd make your life a living horror. Did you think I was kidding?"
Angela's anger was growing. She had to hide it. Suppress it before she made something happen. She couldn't let her power show itself or all was lost and she'd never get out. She calmed herself. It wasn't easy with Balthazar near her, but she did and he didn't notice. After all these years, she was getting adept at hiding her power from him.
"Oh I knew you were serious." She said. "You raped me and took my son when he was born. I know you didn't sacrifice him to your bitch goddess."
"Don't worry about Tanis." He told her. "He's out hunting for our daughter. You'll be happy to know he's found her and is bringing her back for a reunion. Soon you'll see them both. Maybe then I'll give you what you so deserve. Your death, right after she's sacrificed. You'll attend won't you?"
Angela stared at Balthazar. The hate poured off her.
"You seem upset." He smiled as he turned and walked out of her cell. "Good. I like that."
She watched as he waved someone forward. From beyond her door she saw a shadow move. Suddenly a horror of an insect clawed thing came into view. She recoiled in horror. What the hell was this?
"Meet your new guard." He said. "Or should I say your old guard. He's here to see to your needs in case you get out again. Enjoy his company,"
Balthazar slammed the door and walked away laughing going back up to the palace above leaving her and her new companion alone. Angela stood and walked to the door to peer out at the monstrosity that guarded her. This was the man that by accident let her out. He didn't deserve this. It was her fault. If she had stayed in her cell he would still be a man. Will this ever end?
"I'm so sorry." She cried. "You should have killed me."
[Not you fault.]
She heard. She was shocked. Could there still be a mind in that horror?
[Yes. I still here.] It sent to her. [ I not hate you. I not hurt you. I hate him. I kill if could for he did to me.]
"What's your name?" She asked.
[Was Adam,] He sent. [But me not Adam now. Different. Like a Sting]
He raised his stingers to show her. The sharp barb at the end showed a drop of poison. This needs to end. She couldn't stand to see anyone else suffer for her. If what Balthazar said was true, then Tanis was on his way with his sister so Balthazar could finally sacrifice her. She had to get out now to stop him.
"We have to get out of here Sting." She said. "Will you help me?"
[Can we kill him?] Sting asked her.
"Yes." She said. "We will kill him. But we have to get away first. Can you open the door?"
Sting stepped back. He turned and slammed his tail into the door and shattered it to pieces.
[What door?] He asked.
Angela smiled and waved him in. Sting came into her cell as she pointed at the shaft that led up to the surface.
"I can't get up to the grate." She told him. "Can you climb up and open it?"
Sting easily climbed in and scrambled up the shaft. Down the hall Angela heard guards coming to see what the noise was. She raised her hands and sent a spell to cover the door. A shimmering light covered the entrance as the guards came. They reached the door and tried to run through and were blasted back against the wall. Up the shaft, Sting gripped the iron grate and pulled with all his might. Debris began to fall as it came lose and he threw it out of the shaft. Sting backed down a little and stuck his tails down.
[Grab. I pull you out!]
Quickly Angela grabbed on to his tail and Sting scrambled up and out of the shaft to the surface. They looked around and saw vampires guards coming at them. Sting flexed his muscles and let out a howl. Out he swung his tail and bowled over two vampires as they came at him with raised swords. Three more men ran at Angela. She sent out a blast that dropped two as Sting stung a man through his back. Angela turned and saw two guards running away from them screaming dropping their weapons.
"We have to go now!!" She said. She looked up to the moon and spread her arms.
By the powers of the stars and sky.
We need to get away.
With moonlit wings we shall fly.
To face another day.
Silver moon light swirled around them as men came running after them. Behind them Balthazar ran out screaming to catch them. They disappeared in a flash just before the vampires could grab Angela.
Through the clouds a moonbeam shined down on an unmarked mausoleum miles away from the castle. In a flash of light, Angela and Sting appeared. She looked around to be sure they were safely away from the castle. She recognize this place. They were in a cemetery in a small town north of castle Zlenka. It would take Balthazar hours to reach them there. She had gotten them away. But they still weren't safe. There could be people loyal to Balthazar in this town. As a matter of fact there had to be since he was on the throne instead of Valkar. They had to be careful who saw them. She knew she could mix in and hide. But Sting couldn't. She needed help and a place to stay while they planned. There was only one person to turn to. Arturus. He was their only hope. But where was he and could they reach him? It has been years since she had any contact with him. The castles enchantment had prevented her from reaching anyone outside. He probably thought she was dead. It was time she called out to him. He could tell her where her baby was. She would be a grown woman now. Angela smiled at that thought.
[Yes brother.] She answered. [I live. I need help.]
[Where are you?] He asked anxiously. [I will come to you.]
[North of Zlenka. There is a small town called Prafa.]
[I know it.] He told her. [Where have you been? How is it you got away.]
[I have been the prisoner of Balthazar all these years. Kept weak and powerless to escape. It wasn't until last night that I could gather enough strength to make the attempt. I have an ally with me. We need somewhere to hide for now. He is large and hard to hide. Can you help us?]
[There is a man in Prafa.] Arturus told her. [He is a smith with a large house with a cave in the back he uses for storage. He can be trusted. Go to him, he will hide you until I can get there.]
[Thank you Arturus.] Angela sent. [How is she Arturus? My daughter.]
[She has grown up to be a lovely brave woman. Her name is Athene.]
A warm feeling spread out to her from Arturus. He showed her Athene's face for the first time since Angela had sent her to him. Joy filled Angela's heart, she noticed Athene looked a lot like her. But she did have her father's eyes.
[How is she?] Angela asked.
[We'll talk about that when I get there.] He said. [Hurry, His name is Luther Kress. Find him and be safe. I'm on my way. I have a lot to tell you.]
[We will see you soon.] And Angela dropped their communication.
"We have to go." She led Sting out from behind the mausoleum watching all around as they moved. Vampires were still mostly nocturnal, a hard habit to break. So they would have to duck when they saw anyone. Arturus had said Luther Kress lived at the far end of the town against the cliff. That was good cause the cemetery they appeared in was also against the cliff. She thought maybe it would be better if she made contact first and left Sting here hiding. Then she could come and get him.
"I have a place we can go." She told Sting. "Your dark colors make it easy to hide. Stay here while I get something to cover you with. Keep down and quiet, I will be right back."
She looked left and right to check and see if anyone was on the streets. There were people going about their business all along the street. She saw no soldiers and hoped the other people would ignore her. Suddenly a strange aura of mystic energy began to cover her. She had no idea how this could be happening. Maybe someone was intervening on her behalf and covering her. God knows she could use the help. With her new found cover, she walked out of the graveyard. She walked down along the street until she saw a large house with a sign that said Kress Smith. She quietly passed everyone being careful not to come in contact with any of them. She walked casually to the door and knocked. And elderly man answered the door. He looked at her and asked.
"Are you Lady Gaelich?"
"Yes." She answered. "Come in. Where is your companion?"
"Still in the Cemetery hiding." She told him. "We need a very large tarp to cover him and a wagon."
"Wait at the gate. I will get everything and we can go get him." Angela found herself covered again and walked to the sign out front. Soon Luther drove out of the back sitting in a covered wagon. She jumped in the back and showed him where Sting was hiding. When she led Sting out the horses whinnied in fear. Luther's eyes grew bright in fear.
"Don't worry." She said. "I promise he won't hurt you."
[I not hurt anyone.] Sting sent to him. Luther got down and helped her put Sting in the wagon.
[Thank you.] Sting sent to him.
Luther smiled then helped Angela into her seat. Then draped in shadow they drove back to Luther's smithy and to safety.
Almost forgotten a ghostly figure wandered around Castle Zlenka. With nowhere else to go, and forgotten for the time being, Baron Valkar stayed close to his old home trying to find a way to break his curse. He had tried his crypt and found no peace there. He had to find a way to free himself from Muerte's influence. Every now and then he went out to check on Eheren's progress. He still hadn't found the spell to release him. So his search went on. He watched as Angela and Sting made their escape and wondered how he could help her. But there was nothing he could do. He had no physical body to intervene. Baron Valkar had no way of fighting soldiers. But maybe there was another way. He could use what magic he had to help. Quickly he moved down to where they fought casting his ghostly energy at two guards about to strike at her from behind, filling them with fear making them run away screaming. When there was a break in the fighting Angela cast her spell and the Baron was swept away with them.
After being fed a real meal for the first time in over twenty five years Angela relax and thought about the events of the day. She knew Balthazar would have soldiers and spies all over Yadessa searching for them. He would not rest until he found them and brought them back. She would die before she let that happen. She thought about her options. One, she had to get herself and Sting to a safe haven where Balthazar could never reach them. Two, she had to find her daughter and son. There was nothing more important than reuniting with Tanis and Athene. Three, Balthazar had to be stopped for good. He would never let them alone, not while he lived. From high above in the rafters a glowing mist began to form. Sting saw it first. He grunted and pointed up at to show Angela.
[What is?] Angela pushed her white hair back and looked up. It was a soft glowing orb descending down towards them. She thought Balthazar had found them somehow and jumped to her feet.
[Have no fear.] It sent to her. [I am here seeking redemption for the wrongs I have committed. I am here to aid you in any way I can.]
"Who are you?" She asked.
[I am or was Baron Valkar Zlenka.] His form shimmered into view. Angela had seen a painting of the Baron from long ago. But this face was a bit different. The hate was gone she thought. He looked so much more like the king he could have been back in the days he lived.
"Why are you here Baron?" She asked.
[It's a long story Lady.] He said. [I have been snatched from my grave and made to do horrible things. But redemption is what I seek. I want to help Yadessa become the peaceful place my descendant King Valkar wishes for. I want to help bring Balthazar Gaelich down. He means to make Yadessa hell again, and that can never happen again. Our people have suffered far too much.]
"I have been imprisoned for the last twenty five years," Angela told him. "But I know Valkar is just, and I will give him all the help I can. But for right now, I need to find him. Can you lead him to me safely?"
[That I can do.] Baron Valkar said. Then he became the light orb and began to drift back up to the ceiling to leave.
"Sting." She said. "I think we'll be alright.”
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