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The 88 - Valley of Stars

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The balance of the worlds teeter as Ria struggles to return her people to the Valley of Stars. She must lead the 88 home before the balance of the universe tips, erasing the past, catapulting them into eternal darkness. As friendships are tested, some will bond, others will struggle, but together they will travel a path that will change their lives forever.

Fantasy / Adventure
P.J. Van Cleave
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

The rocky cliff towered over the angry waves as they crashed against the jagged peaks of stone along the shore. Ria stood on the edge allowing herself to regenerate in the salty air. The heavens bulged wet blue as the cool Autumn mist left tiny droplets clinging to her delicate mouth.

Like the dark clouds that rolled above her, a confident storm brewed inside her as she peered across the massive ocean of hopelessness—a confidence that pushed her through each day.

It was her birthday. The day most would spend with family and friends. The kind of day you’d expect to be filled with gifts, cake and birthday wishes. The day a normal young woman would be going to the movies with her friends or stopping off at the mall for a day of shopping, like she’d read about in books. But not for Ria. She was not normal, as she’d been reminded repeatedly by the advisor assigned to her. They were told what to eat, when to sleep and worked endlessly mastering their craft.

She was used to the constant eye though. Time alone was a rare occurrence, a precious opportunity she used to master the most enigmatic of her gifts.

Away from their watchful eye, she worked at understanding her talent.

A hot stinging shot through her body as the venom rose within her, a burning flame that grew stronger each day. Like the instinct of an animal, it came natural to her. It the advisors knew; she would be destroyed.

Today would be the last day they would allow her to spend with her little brother as she had reached adulthood.

He was the only gift she needed in this world. He was her life, a bouncing ray of sunshine with youthful energy filled with both promise and hope in the less than human life she lived. He was the only form of happiness she’d known in this vacant expression of what life was meant to be.

They allowed her to pass the doors of her prison. Briefly though, just long enough to collect a few shells and view the outside world of water, rocks, and sand.

Why? A test, perhaps? It was an insult to think they could provoke her emotions. How cruel these people could be? Always testing.

She scowled against the wind and drizzle then dismissed the thought with the wave of her hand.

This was a realm unknown to her. She reminded herself that belonged to the stars—Ria, a Starblood, leader of her people. The descendant of Arachnid; the Scorpion, ruler of the cosmic.

She lifted her hands to the sky and watched as the grey clouds twisted. The blue parted leaving a twinkling of lights scattered against the black space above her.

Ria peered into the vast darkness. The glitter of lights shone brighter as she spoke to the ancients, as they had called to her in her dreams of ages past. Awaking her to her destiny.

A reminder of another time, another place in the heavens when life was as it was meant to be where her people lived in peace. A harmony meant to sustain them through the ages. But even in peace, there are those that allow themselves the pleasures of wickedness. Letting their hearts harden, even against the ones they love.

Then the day came when that unity was destroyed by the betrayal of greed. With cold green fingers wrapping itself around his throat, choking out the good that once filled Saros soul. A longing that turned him into darkness.

She loved him once, in another life. He was golden with beauty and grace. Gifted with the strength of a warrior.

She remembered him fondly with strands of burnt sienna coiled loosely around his square face. His cheekbones high and proud. But his striking blue eyes turned as cold as the waves that crashed below her as the desire for the power and control of her people corrupted his mind.

Their world changed, her people changed and were filled with death and sorrow. They divided and the perils of war broke them, scattering their ashes across the Universe.

Ria breathed in the moisture, taking her fill of the water, she needed to replenish. Reincarnated into another world, another life, she thought her people would have another chance for a life of peace. Instead, they were once again prisoners under the control of a selfish hunger for dominance.

Behind her, the iron door rattled as it opened. Rusted metal from years of exposure blended with the wall of earth and stone. The Watcher stepped out onto the rocky bluff; her fleeting moment of freedom had ended. Ria lowered her hands, the clouded sky returned.

She turned from the tumultuous waves, the damp wind blew long russet locks across rich eyes, the cotton dress flapped in the whipping air. She looked up at the massive figure, into those dark insensitive eyes and followed him back into the walls that held her, into the assessment room where they waited.

Surrounded by the gloomy light of the room, she took her seat at the table. In front of her lay a mound of clay. She had done this before worked with the clay. She knew what was expected of her. She had prepared for this moment every day for the last sixteen years as did all Starbloods. Her skills were well versed. Across from her, sat her Nesis guide waiting with calm, subjective grey eyes. Hard and serious. It was the first of her test of gifts.

Ria closed her eyes and centered her thoughts stretching her sure hands toward the clump. The lighted fixture above her flickered as a warm glow formed in her hands. Carefully she wielded the energy over the wet mud, fire shot through the clod, casting and molding until the flame receded leaving a small clay fish where the earth once lay.

A gentle smile spread across Ria’s face, flush from the heat that surged through her now. She opened her eyes to the contented stare of her guide, a wiry, pompous woman with snow white hair combed straight back from her forehead.

Once, she thought she saw a flicker of kindness behind those deep eyes and attempted, for a moment, to reach out to her, but the frigid reflection of her soul reassured her of her misjudgment. She was not like the woman in her dreams. The woman who nursed her when she was sick, rocked her when she was hurt, loved her unconditionally. The mother she remembered from another life.

Ria folded her hands onto her lap and waited. The ancestors will be pleased, ran through her head.

The woman waved her hand signaling the Watcher. As he entered, Ria rose to rest at his chest. She slid her hand across the table as she stepped, closing her fingers around the tiny figure, then tucked it into the pocket of the white maxi dress.

She trailed behind the beast of a man, his shoulders spread as wide as the door, into an adjoining room and quietly sat within the pale walls, patiently waiting for the next trial to begin.

This time a man, the Psyche guide sat across from her holding a single card in his hand. She did not know him, but studied him, searched his mind. He thought he could block her mental probes into his thinking, but the steel wall he envisioned melted with her first stab of inquest. She saw a girl, small and blonde. There was water then loss, then sadness.

Ria quickly let go. The feeling of loneliness washed over her like a sad rain. She decided he was an unhappy man, then steadied herself turning from him and fixed her eyes on the blank sheet he held. The black outline of a bird formed in her mind. Her eyes rose to meet the man’s hollow stare.

“It’s a bird,” she said. The man grinned as he laid the card flat on the table revealing the black raven. He raised his hand and snapped his long thin fingers. She noticed the ring he wore. The Cynotics symbol carved into an orange stone. The Watcher entered carrying a wooden box. He set it on the table in front of her.

Ria leaned close to the box. She let her eyes traced the angles of the square, concentrating on the darkness of the interior. An image flashed in her mind. Pleased, she relaxed and sat back in the chair watching his expressionless face.

“It’s a doll,” she said. “It has brown hair, a little red bow pinned on the right side of the head, blue eyes and it is dressed in a red and white checked dress, a petticoat and black shoe.” Ria smiled at the rewarding voice of the ancestors that resounded in her head. The man reached for the box, lifting the top to expose a small doll. He smirked.

She had passed the required assessments. One final test remained.

Once more the man motioned for the Watcher, who entered and stood next to where Ria sat. She rose to shadow him into a room where a single chair was placed in the middle of a stone floor. She lowered herself onto the seat and examined the frame of a large mirror built into the wall in front of her. But the feeling was different. A frosty chill filled the air sending a shiver through the warmth pulsing through her veins. She breathed deep and tried to shake it off, but the sense clung to her, stabbing at her flesh with its hot, icy blade.

Her eyes closed, she let her thoughts immerse toward the glass. Coiled sienna and cold blue eyes flashed into her mind, her breath hung in her throat, a dark, vile knowing consumed her mind. Behind her stood the Watcher and both guides. She listened. Heard their thoughts, saw the greed dripping from their minds like crude oil spilling up from the ground. She knew the desire of their darkened hearts, but she would not let them know everything, as the ancestors had warned. Her power went far beyond anything they understood. Ria dropped her head and shook it in dismay.

“I see nothing,” said Ria.

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