Orange and red flames flared to life in sharp, hot bursts across the dark, vacant field; cutting off any chances of escape. A small three-year-old girl ran as fast as her short legs would allow as fear burned in her soul as strongly as the fire itself.
An ebony beast, with a body as dark as the starless night sky, hid among the cotton-like, charcoal clouds, sending forth immense gales of embers as the child tried desperately to avoid being burned alive.
A dragon! Her tiny mind shouted at her, doing her best to forget they were supposed to be extinct.
A small boy roughly her age, lagged not far behind, having great difficulty keeping up. 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. He peered up at the girl, reaching his hand out for her.
She hesitated briefly, debating whether or not to go back and rescue him. But there was no time for helping anyone but herself as the beast prepared to launch another assault, its mouth glowing as brightly as fresh blood. The fire was once more brewing in the dragon’s throat and she needed to get to safety.
A cloaked figure, barely visible among the clouds, sat upon the back of the giant beast, encouraging it to continue its assault on the helpless children in a language they did not understand.
Terrified, the little girl pressed on, a sharp pain developing in her left side as her breath came out in sharp, broken puffs of air. She looked back over her shoulder, her foot catching on a thick root that was jutting out of the dirt, sending her sprawling to the hard, unforgiving ground, her head cracking open painfully on a rock.
Dark, red blood seeped out of the open wound on her head as she tried feebly to hang on to consciousness, the world fading in and out as sparks of black and white danced in her vision.
Her eyes 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 silently into darkness as the beast released the fire that had been building in its throat.
Valeena’s bright, blue eyes opened slowly, seeing 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 painfully real. Valeena sat up, her hand rubbing absently at the spot on her head that is struck in her dream, feeling only a thin scar.
Valeena usually is woken up from the dream after her head hits the ground, like an alarm pulling her back into the world of the conscious. Other times, however, the dream continues in broken fragments, like a picture being torn in pieces, of her tiny body being carried up to the iron gates of Star Kingdom. Very few times she was 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 called mother, Queen Maylee, the powerful ruler of Star Kingdom, about the dreams. She was hoping that she could shed some light on them; 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 hundred years! Now, do not speak of such foolishness again!” The Queen had barked angrily, waving her fat hand in the air, a sign that Valeena had been dismissed.
Valeena realized that sleep would elude her, as it often did upon waking from the dream, as she made her way slowly onto her stone balcony via the double doors that separated the balcony from her room.
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 Star Kingdom, located northeast of the omnipresent shade of Evil Forest. The castle, a very plain four-story rectangular building with two towers on the backside and one resting on top, sat on an island that appeared to be a muffin rising out of the sea.
An underwater mountain range sat beside the castle, stretching its way back to land, the peaks fading completely under the sea as it reached the shores.
Star City itself stretched outwards on a peninsula, ending daringly close to the borders of Evil Forest. It was 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 above was a rich, dark, ebony slate, void of any light save for the occasional lightning bolt that 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 deeply as she longed to touch those forbidden waters. Her blue eyes glided upwards as the clouds began to cry a soft staccato of cool, drops of refreshing rain upon her creamy, white skin. Her jet black hair that contained faint tints of royal blue highlights was lifted off her shoulders by a sweet, salty, gentle wind.
The cool breeze moved her hair from around her forehead, revealing a blue, rain drop shaped crystal that was planted firmly 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 was fitted snugly over the crystal and 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 rudely when the band was first introduced to Valeena sometime around the age of five, attenuating the excitement she had felt growing in her heart.
“Does Princess Aurory get one?” Valeena had asked solemnly, 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, fat 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 to match their ever-expanding bodies. Freckles were splashed on their cheeks like sparkles from the sun.
Even King Star, who had died a mysterious death just two weeks after Princess Aurory was 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, the only painting of him that seemed to have survived the years. A wine stain was visible on the bottom left corner of the massive painting from when the Queen had hurled her glass at a terrified maid and missed.
A majestic, two-headed storm bird circled through the rain, its large emerald wings skimming the reflective surface of the ocean, searching for prey hidden in the gray-green 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 canopy four poster bed; throwing herself back against the faded blue pillows. She stared silently across her room where a chipped vanity table with a large, oval mirror (that she sometimes threw a scarf over), sat.
Valeena was restless and wished that she could walk the castle floors, just to stretch her legs and clear her mind of dragons. But, she knew it was forbidden.
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 could only enter certain rooms, and the second floor, which contained the Queens chambers and the library, was entirely off limits. And leaving her room at night was entirely forbidden.
Valeena had worked up the courage to ask the Queen roughly five years ago why she was not referred to as Princess Valeena, and once more, the Queen responded with cruel laughter.
“For you will never be Queen you fool.” The Queen had said it so simply, 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, knowing 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, walking on the rough carpet out of her room and stepping once more into the shower of refreshing rain.
Valeena felt her heart jump as she spied a large wolf-like creature sitting silently on the castle wall, its yellow eyes watching her.
Valeena was intrigued by the animal as the wall it rested on was fifteen feet high and as smooth as cut glass; the Queen demanding it is 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 as they all had been removed 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 scent of salt water and the damp earth was like slipping into tranquility, taking her soul away from the castle.
The wolf merely blinked its 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 that was well known throughout the lands of the Zula continent, striking 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, who was said to be so foul that Hades himself did not want him and locked it in the forest.
At sunset, all city gates were locked tight and no one is 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 in the chill of the night, 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 being 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 people, as the stable hands had turned in for the night; the horses were locked away safe from the rain. Not even the guards, who were supposed to be walking the grounds, were out. They were most likely huddle together gossiping or drinking, making sure to stay well out of sight.
Valeena involuntarily turned her blue eyes back towards the wolf, who was still sitting on the wall with its head tilted slightly, 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.