Chapter 1 Feelings of dread
An ebony beast, with a body as dark as the starless night sky, hid among the cotton-like, clouds. It was sending forth immense gales of embers as the child tried to avoid getting burned alive.
A dragon! Her tiny mind shouted at her, doing her best to forget that they were extinct.
A small boy her age lagged not far behind. He was having great difficulty keeping up, his legs tired from running. His breath was coming out in short, sharp, gasps as he stumbled along the brittle grass. The child tripped over his own feet and fell hard to the ground, peering up at the girl as he reached for her.
She hesitated, debating if she should back and rescue him. But there was no time for helping anyone as the beast prepared to launch another assault. She could see its mouth glowing as bright as fresh blood. She knew that the fire was once more brewing in the dragon’s deadly throat.
A cloaked figure, almost invisible among the clouds, sat upon the back of the giant beast. He was speaking in a strange language as he encouraged the dragon to continue attacking the children.
Terrified, the little girl pressed on as a sharp pain developed on her left side. Her breath began to come out in sharp, broken puffs of air as she looked back over her shoulder. Her foot caught on a thick root that was jutting out of the dirt, her body sprawling to the hard, unforgiving ground. Her head cracked onto a sharp rock sending pain pulsing through her body.
Dark, red blood seeped out of the open wound on her head as she tried hard to hang on to consciousness. But the world was fading in and out as sparks of black and white danced in her vision. Her eyes themselves started to burn from the tears that threatened to escape. Her throat felt raw from the smoke that choked her lungs as she let go, slipping into the darkness. She closed her eyes as the beast released the fire that had been building in its throat.
Valeena’s bright, blue eyes fluttered opened. She saw nothing but darkness as the dream slipped out of her mind like sand through her fingers. She had fallen asleep safe in her own comfortable bed, where no foul dragons or flames could reach her.
It was a dream, she knew or thought she knew, as she stretched her arms above her head. But it always felt so real to her. Valeena sat up, her hand rubbing absently at the spot on her head that hits the rock in her dream, feeling only a thin scar.
Valeena almost always wakes up from the dream after her head hits the ground. The rock acting like an alarm pulling her back into the world of the conscious. Other times, the dream continues and she can see her tiny body carried to the iron gates of Star Kingdom. Very few times she is able to catch vague images of the castle, looming in the distance like a shadow in the night.
Valeena had worked up the courage to ask the woman whom she calls mother about the dreams. She was hoping that she could shed some light on them. Valeena needed to find out if there was anything real within the images that plagued her dreams.
“That is absurd! Dragons. They have been extinct for at least one thousand years! Now, do not speak of such foolishness again!” The Queen had barked, waving her fat hand in the air, a sign that Valeena was dismissed.
Valeena realized that sleep would elude her, as it often did upon waking from the dream. She made her way onto her stone balcony, enjoying the rush of fresh air that swept over her. Valeena’s room was on the right-hand side of the castle on the fourth floor. Her balcony sat to the left of the stables, the foul, sour scent of horses filling her room on hot days.
Valeena lived in the heavily guarded castle that was part of the mighty Star Kingdom. The castle itself sat on an island that appeared to be a muffin rising out of the sea. The Kingdom was barely out of reach of the shadows within Evil Forest. An underwater mountain range sat beside the castle. Its tall peaks sticking out of the ocean near the castle. The rest of the mountain was submerged under the salty waves as it stretched back to the shore.
Star City itself sat on a peninsula, ending daringly close to the borders of Evil Forest. It was only attached to the castle grounds via a grand sandstone bridge that ended in a closed iron gate. The gate itself was constantly under guard, no one from the city was ever allowed to set foot on castle grounds.
Tonight, the sky was a rich, ebony slate that was void of any light save for the occasional lightning bolt. The bolts would rip across the dark canvas in bright, brilliant sparks. Thunder rolled in the distance, holding the promise of rain. The scent of the sea hung heavy in the air and Valeena inhaled it deeply, tasting the saltiness. She leaned her arms on the cool, stone rail, surveying the angry, gray ocean waves below.
She sighed as she longed to touch those forbidden waters. Her blue eyes glided upwards as the clouds began to cry a soft staccato of rain upon her creamy, white skin. Her jet black hair that contained strands of royal blue was lift off her shoulders by the salty wind. The breeze moved her hair from around her forehead, revealing a blue, raindrop-shaped crystal that was growing in the center of her forehead. The interior of the crystal swirled with several shades of blue, as though it held a mighty storm within. Valeena had never met another soul with a crystal, making her feel like an outsider; alone.
Queen Maylee forced Valeena to wear a polished silver band that fits snug over the crystal. The band twisted around her head in thin braided loops. Four other gems, each a beautiful shade of blue, adorned the metal on either side. The gems made the one on her forehead appear to be nothing more than a simple, yet beautiful decoration.
“So you do not appear as odd as you are!” Queen Maylee had said when the band was first introduced to Valeena at age of five.
“Does Princess Aurory get one?” Valeena had asked, startled when Queen Maylee’s response was cruel laughter.
“Heavens no, she does not need such a silly thing! No, Princess Aurory gets this lovely gold tiara with real emeralds and rubies. Not a band made of silver and bits of cheap, colored glass.”
Valeena had turned to the spoiled baby noticing for the first time that she looked nothing like her sister. Nor the Queen herself. The royal family was all short, and plump, with medium length, sandy blond hair over light, tan skin. Their eyes were an olive green color, with flecks of gold in them, placed in large, round faces. Freckles were splashed on their cheeks like sparkles from the sun. Even King Star, who had died a mysterious death two weeks after Princess Aurory had been born, looked nothing like Valeena. He too had been a short, balding man with a round waist, his eyes a deep green.
A single, albeit faded, painting of him hung in the hallway leading to the second floor. It was the only painting of him that seemed to have survived the years. A wine stain was visible on the bottom left corner of the painting from when the Queen had hurled her glass at a terrified maid.
A majestic, two-headed storm bird circled through the rain. Its large, emerald wings skimming the reflective surface of the ocean as it searched for prey hidden in the waters. It called out softly, a hauntingly beautiful sound reminiscent of a whale singing in the night.
Reluctantly, Valeena dragged herself back to her room and sat on her bed. She threw herself back against the faded blue pillows, staring at the ceiling. Valeena was restless and wished that she could walk the castle floors. She needed to stretch her legs and clear her mind of dragons. But, she knew she was not allowed to leave her room at night.
Princess Aurory, however, had free reign of the castle. She could wander where ever, whenever she liked, save for the dungeons. But the spoiled princess had no interest in walking down that many stairs anyways. Valeena, on the other hand, was very restricted on where she could travel to within the castle. She was only allowed to enter certain rooms of the castle and never alone. The second floor, which contained the Queens chambers and the library, were completely off limits to her.
Valeena had worked up the courage to ask the Queen five years ago why she was not referred to as Princess Valeena. But the Queen had laughed again as she said, “For you will never be Queen you fool.” The Queen had said it as though it were blatantly obvious.
“But, is it not the eldest who is next in line for the throne?” Valeena questioned as confusion crossed her lovely face.
“Why do you enjoy testing me? Of course not! It is whomever I decide, and Princess Aurory at five years old seems far more suited to running a kingdom than you!” Valeena was then shooed away with threats of being locked in her room for a month if she bothered the Queen with such nonsense again.
Valeena sat up, shaking the memories out of her head. She knew that she would definitely not be able to fall back to sleep tonight. The walls in her room felt as though they were starting to close in on her as she climbed to her bare feet once more. She walked along the rough carpet out of her room, stepping once more into the shower of refreshing rain.
Valeena felt her heart jump as she spied a large wolf-like creature sitting on the castle wall. Its yellow eyes watching her as she approached the rail.
Valeena was intrigued by the animal as the wall it rested on was fifteen feet high and as smooth as cut glass. The Queen demanded the wall polished to a shine twice a month. If not more. There were no rocks or trees near the wall that could have aided the beast in reaching the top. They all had been removed long ago for the construction of the wall.
“You had better go or the guards will shoot you,” Valeena informed it, enjoying the cool night breeze that was tangled in the rain. The wolf blinked its yellow eyes as Valeena spoke, oblivious to the danger it faced sitting there.
Valeena felt foolish speaking to the animal as the rain continued in light, misty drops. She could not help but look out towards Evil Forest, hoping to see the legendary Night Demon. The Demon was well known throughout the lands of the Zula continent. Just mentioning it would strike terror into the hearts of all those who believed it. The people who lived in the cities that were near the forest believed strongly in the presence of the Demon. Legend said that the beast was so foul that Hades himself did not want him and locked him away in the forest.
At sunset, all city gates were locked tight and no one was allowed to leave or enter. A clock tower sits in the center of every town, village, and Kingdom chiming at sunset to remind the citizens that it is time to go indoors.
“Leave the castle at once.” A husky voice whispered, slicing into Valeena’s thoughts and pulling her mind back to the castle. Valeena, who had never felt cold a day in her life, felt a chill run down her spine.
“Wh-who’s there?” She stuttered; the question drowned out as a loud clap of thunder rolled across the heavens. Valeena strained her ears for a response, searching the storm for the owner of the voice.
The grounds were empty of all people. The stable hands had turned in for the night; the horses locked away safe from the rain. Not even the guards, who were supposed to be walking the grounds, were out. They were more than likely huddle together somewhere gossiping and drinking.
Valeena turned her blue eyes back towards the wolf. He was still sitting on the wall with its head tilted, its yellow eyes boring into hers.
“You are in danger.” And with that, the wolf leaped swiftly off the wall towards the ocean and out of sight.