Chapter 10 Finding Sorrow
Valeena paused, breathing hard, hands on her knees as she bent over, finally releasing the vomit that burned inside her. When she was through, she placed the back of her hand on her mouth, spying Elden casually peering in the opposite direction. He was pretending he had not just witnessed her getting sick, and she was thankful for that.
Aira strolled up behind them, a lush purple berry in her hands, the juice running down her arm. She glared at Elden as she passed him, eyeing Valeena.
“I shall accompany you on your quest.” She informed them coolly, her eyes locked onto theirs. “But I intend to have the Elements for myself.”
“Good luck elf!” Elden snapped, wearing an expression of hate.
“You dare speak to me!” Aira rounded on Elden, one hand on her bow, the wind becoming threatening. Elden placed a hand on his sword hilt, not removing his eyes from hers. The two stared at each other, hate radiating off them in waves.
Valeena’s blue eyes looked from Elden to Aira, her heart sinking. She could not understand why they hated each other so much.
Elden’s crystal flickered like a star sparking to life in the night. Aira hissed, her arm swinging forward as she released the heavy fruit. The berry struck Elden in the face, purple juice spraying outwards. Valeena gasped, her hand covering her mouth as pieces of berry landed on the green grass.
Elden wiped the chunks of berry off his cheek, releasing a humorless laugh softly. He cocked his head sideways, shifting his eyes to Aira’s hate filled ones.
Valeena shook her head in defeat, deciding she had had enough of them. She turned her back on the pair and entered the forest, the temperature changing several degrees. It was like stepping instantly from spring weather to fall, the shade of the trees blocking out most of the early morning sun.
Valeena heard their footsteps behind her but she refused to say a word to them. She had decided that she was going to be mad at them for a bit longer. Valeena stepped cautiously over an oozing gray toad that sat happily in a puddle of fresh rain water and slime. The fog that had been so dense in the other part of the forest was much thinner resembling steam from a hot shower. Wisps swayed lazily in the warm breeze, blinking in and out like a candle flame in the wind.
A thick, amber-colored thorn bush caught Valeena by the hem of her dress, cutting her leg open. She cried out in pain, stumbling forward. But Elden jumped beside her, saving her from falling into the sharp thorns.
“Thank yo-“The word caught in Valeena’s throat roughly as her eyes landed on a red stain on his neck.
“Are you alright?” She asked, rubbing at her own neck as Elden released her arm, his hand quickly covering his exposed skin.
“Yeah, I’m fine.” His words came out in a rush as his eyes refused to meet hers. Valeena saw more blood on his right arm, just above the wrist as his jacket sleeve rode up. His hand was still rubbing anxiously on the back of his neck as his eyes darted about.
“Elden is… that blood?” Valeena questioned, her eyes growing wide at a horrible thought that suddenly swam into her mind. He shoved passed her roughly, shaking his spiked head.
“It’s berry juice!” He said, stepping around the thorn bush and trudging through the foliage. His quick movements disturbed a few Wisps in the process like pollen from a flower.
Valeena raised a single brow as she thought back to the dark, purple juice that had splashed out of the berry Aira had thrown. The elf was behind her, as silent as the wind, a look of disgust on her lovely face.
“Do you believe his lies?” She hissed in her low accented voice, the hate dripping from her words. Valeena shook her head, unsure.
“I have no reason not to.” She said quietly, keeping her eyes on her feet.
Aira scoffed at her response, brushing an insect off her shoulder before crossing her slender, yet powerful arms over her chest.
“Why do you think he is lying?” Valeena asked cautiously, trying to keep her voice nonchalant.
“If you are blind, I cannot help you to see.” The elf replied, strolling down the path behind Elden, muttering under her breath. Valeena remained still, wondering what Aira had meant by that. A howl, sounding too close for comfort forced her to move on as well. She regretted not grabbing one of the horses, but she had fled the town in a hurry. She closed her eyes briefly as the man floating in the red water flickered in her mind.
Valeena was thankful that the forest was not as large in this portion of the land. The trees had ended at a field of massive wild sunflowers, their orange and yellow petals swaying in the mid-morning breeze. Valeena strolled in awe, inhaling their sweet fragrance. She admired the tallest stocks holding the blossoms high above her head. Valeena had never seen such beautiful flowers before. Their glossy petals would surely put Queen Maylee’s ‘prized’ roses to shame.
A rusty colored Ziz lay in the warm shade of a vibrant yellow sunflower, its cat-like tail swaying playfully. Valeena paused, she had not noticed the beast before as she had been too busy admiring the lovely flowers. She watched Elden as he approached the beast in caution, his hand on his sword.
Rain splashed on Valeena’s bare shoulders in tiny drops as she received a look of annoyance from Elden. The Ziz climbed to its massive feet, shaking water off its head and roaring as it yawned. The beast only had hind legs to stand on as it had massive rusty, colored wings instead of arms. The beast spread its wings and lifted itself high into the air, watching Elden, hoping for a mid-morning snack.
The Ziz began to sway in the gentle rain before falling asleep, its body crashing onto a sunflower, snapping the green stock in half. Aira, who had her bow out with an arrow waiting to sail through the air, huffed.
“At least present a challenge!” She said, replacing her bow, her silver eyes burning with hate. Valeena did not need to see Elden’s face to know his crystal was behind the beast’s sudden nap. She was thankful the battle had been a short one as she was once again, weaponless. The rain ceased but the flowers still dripped with the drops of water, making the air even lovelier to breathe.
“Why does a Princess flee the comforts of the castle?” Aira asked without warning, matching Valeena’s stride as they continued through the lovely flowers.
“I am not a princess. And the reason I left is none of your concern.” Valeena tried to keep her temper down, but the joy that flickered in the elf’s eyes sent a current of anger through her soul.
“So proper,” Aira sneered, curtsying at Valeena. She laughed at herself, a soft snort escaping her.
Valeena’s body shook in anger as water began to drizzle from the still cloudless blue sky upon the vibrant flowers. She watched Elden turned his face skyward as gray clouds materialized overhead, blocking out the yellow sun. He slowed his pace, waiting for Valeena to catch up, holding out his hands to stop her.
“What’s with the rain?” He questioned. He cupped his palms together, collecting the rain water in them, and splashing it on his face.
Valeena shrugged casually as she tried to get a hold of herself. She forced her body to stop shaking, feeling relieved when the light rain ceased.
“Maybe the princess is homesick?” Aira teased cruelly, rubbing a fist under her right eye and pouting her lip as she mocked Valeena, pretending to cry.
Valeena slammed her shoulder into Elden as she passed by, ignoring him as he fought a smile. He turned his head and pretended to cough in a poor attempt of hiding his laughter. But Valeena had seen the corners of his mouth twitch and hated him for it.
Valeena was disappointed when the beautiful sunflowers had panned out, leaving only behind boring, green fields. Kane was slowly rising into view near the horizon as the sun rolled higher in the royal blue sky. Even though Valeena was unable to see the town, she sensed something was wrong. Aira seemed to feel it too as she quickened her nimble pace, her legs moving as smooth as a gazelle.
“What happened here?” Valeena spoke, gasping as her eyes fell upon the charred remains of the town. The welcome sign was badly burned and broken in two, lying on the ground two feet from its post. There were several holes visible in the ebony wood as though it had been shot at.
Valeena covered her mouth in horror as she saw the burned skeletal remains of homes and shops. Several others were nothing more than piles of dust and debris. The air itself smelled heavily of smoke and burnt wood that seemed to choke Valeena. Thin layers of ash coated corners of the once bustling town that had yet been ravaged by the wind.
“Morsting,” Aira whisper. The inflection in her voice made it sound more like she was asking a question than making a statement.
“No,” Elden replied. He was pointing to an ebony canister that was buried halfway in the ground not far from where they stood. The top part of it was shredded as though it had exploded somehow. Valeena approached the object cautiously, stepping around debris as she made her way towards it. She could not ignore the cold sense of dread that was pouring itself through her soul.
“Is… that a bomb? But there is no war! Who would do this?” Valeena questioned horrified as her eyes followed Elden. He was moving towards the bomb, carefully inspecting the canister without touching. He was searching it for some type of emblem or writing to indicated who had sent it.
Elden said nothing as he waved for Valeena to come over, nodding at something on the backside of the bomb that she could not see. Valeena was not sure why he did not just tell her what he had found as she moved closer to the canister. Her heart skipped a beat as a horrible thought crossed her mind and she shook her head, hoping it was not true. Her heart sank, however, as her blue eyes fell upon the black dragon, twisting along a red star.
Valeena stumbled backward as the world spun around her, her head feeling dizzy and light. Her vision began to blur as questions buzzed through her mind like an angry wasp. How could she do this? And why did she feel the need to? Valeena scanned the ruins, searching for any signs of life. Her eyes fell on piles of debris with several empty bomb canisters resting beside the demolished buildings.
Valeena felt the urge to cry out as she scanned the terrible scene of destruction before her. But the sound was caught in her throat. This was a time of peace! This small town was sheltered in the past and had no military of its own. It was as if a large bird had swooped down on a helpless snail, killing it instantly.
Valeena did not realize it was raining until she felt the pressure of Elden’s hand as he placed it gently on her shoulder. He smiled at her in a feeble attempt to comfort her. Warm tears had escaped her blue eyes and were silently rolling down her cheeks as she stared at the dragon.
“Ah, if you are planning on looting you best shove off!” A large burly man carrying a shovel called out. There were several other men with him, each one wore a similar expression of anger. Valeena opened her mouth to protest, but one of the men stepped forward.
“I know you, you’re Valeena!” The man called out, pointing excitedly as though he had spotted a golden goose. Valeena nodded, watching carefully as the man pointed the tip of his shovel at the bomb.
It was a simple question that required a complicated answer. And it was one that Valeena did not have. Valeena shook her head instead, not knowing what else to do.
“I had no part in the Queen’s plans.” Valeena choked the words out as a batch of fresh tears burned her eyes. She was relieved to see that the citizens of Kane were still alive. She managed to stop the hazy rainfall as she regained control over her emotions.
The first guy laughed a bitter ‘ha’, wiping the rain water off his brow with the back of his work glove. He placed his shovel in the soil, leaning on the handle.
“You expect us to believe that rubbish? You must be mad.” He looked to his companions for back up, the men each nodding in agreement.
Valeena knew a lost cause when she saw it, and she had learned years ago how to pick her battles. She instead decided to try and change the subject, nodding her head towards the bomb.
“Did you see what happened?”
The men remained silent as they stared at her. Valeena almost glanced at Elden to tell him they should leave when one of the men began talking.
“Well Jon claims he saw a flying ship drop it, but I think he had had one too many to drink!” The men laughed at this. “It happened the night before. That same day, some bloke named Thanos had come to us, asking us to join his Ranks. We declined, seeing no value in joining a war that wasn’t ours.”
“Ranks for what?” Elden asked before Valeena could. She saw his face twisting in pain as concern turned to anger.
“Who cares?” He said indicating to the demolished town. “You idiots should have just joined him!”
“I’d rather sell me soul to Hades himself than join ranks with that bloated cow!” One man spat. His words were meant to hurt, but he was hurling his words at the wrong group of people.
“I heard from me mate that Nero was bombed a few days before us. They had even fewer survivors than we did.”
Valeena wondered if the world was truly spinning or if it was just in her mind. Nero was a lovely desert town on the Nova continent that was not far from the mountains. It did not have a military to defend itself either.
“Come on. We have a makeshift camp just outside of town, we can talk there.” Jon said pointing his shovel over his sweat stained shoulder. Valeena followed without saying a word, not waiting to see if Elden and Aira joined her.
The camp was a sad scene, a sight that sent a new wave of grief and hate pulsing through Valeena’s soul. Several tents that had been fashioned from clothes, curtains, blankets and any other fabric they could find littered the mouth of the pass. Children were playing with dolls made out of grass while others had sticks that they were using as swords. Everyone was wearing random clothing, probably using whatever they could find after the harsh attack.
A large bonfire had been set up and several women were cooking fish and other meat on the fire. Valeena drooled as the scent of cooking food reached her. She felt her stomach grumble, a harsh reminder that she had not eaten in some time.
Jon pointed to a makeshift table made out of an old, green door with brown wooden barrels serving as chairs. Valeena and Elden sat on the barrels as Aira scoffed, choosing to lean on a flimsy looking tree instead. She kept mumbling about how Human problems were known of her concern, but she stayed within earshot of them.
“Yeah, Nero and us ain’t the only towns that have been reduced to rubbish.” Jon began as he picked at a bowl of mixed berries that had been set down by an angry looking woman. She locked eyes with Valeena, glaring darkly. She then turned her back on Valeena as she was replaced by a stout woman who brought with her a plate of cooked fish. She set the food roughly next to the berries, the meat almost falling off the plate.
“It ain’t much but you’re welcome to it.” She said but there was no warmth in her voice. Valeena smiled up at her. The woman appeared startled, retreating back to the circle of women who sat gossiping as they cleaned animal pelts. She poked another woman in the arm and leaned in close to whisper, her eyes darting to Valeena.
“St. Dalmasca was nearly destroyed by Titan just a day or so after Queen Maylee and Princess Aurory paid them a visit.” Jon continued as he ate a piece of fish with his dirty fingers. Valeena reached subconsciously for a fat berry as he spoke. She could not help but feel disappointed that the berries were tiny, and not massive like the ones in Vaughnstein. She still regretted not taking a bite of the massive strawberry that had taunted her.
“Well, a few buildings were at least.” He corrected himself with a shy smile on his tired face, knowing there was no need to exaggerate.
“The Summoner was on the Nova continent?” Valeena questioned as she choked on the bitter fruit. She looked towards Elden who wore an expression of pure boredom on his tired face.
“Now how would-Wait- a Summoner? Blimey, I didn’t think of that! Carl! Hey, Carl!”
A tall, thin man in overalls and a newsboy cap appeared from around one of the tents, holding a shovel. “What?” He yelled back with a looked of annoyance on his ash-stained face.
“That Titan thing can only appear by a Summoner!” Jon yelled, invoking one of the women to shout back, “If y’all want to talk, get closer! Stop shouting back and forth like some sort of damn animals!”
Carl hung his head in shame and trudged over to the table, plopping loudly into a vacant barrel, the wood groaning under his weight.
“A Summoner? I wonder if that Thanos bloke is the Summoner!” Carl speculated out loud, reaching for a piece of fish with his filthy hands. He saw the look of disgust on Valeena’s face and quickly wiped his fingers on his pants, his hands still stained black with ash. Valeena shook her head slowly as she thought out loud, “I do not believe it to be him.” She saw Elden glance at her, a look of confusion written on his handsome face.
“Leviathan did not attack us. We were merely in its way. The Summoner had sent it after the soldiers.” Valeena explained, remembering the events clearly in her mind.
“But why would the Summoner attack St. Dalmasca?” Jon asked, leaning on the barrel and nearly toppling off of it. Carl pointed his thumb towards Aira, a goofy grin forming on his dirty face.
“Is she the Summoner?” Carl joked as he winked at Aira, taking his cap off his head and running a hand through his thinning hair. Aira scoffed and turned away, mumbling about men being pigs.
“Guess not.” Carl laughed as he replaced his frayed cap on his head and smacked a hand to his chest. They sat in mostly silence together, Carl still chuckling now and then as he stole glances at Aira. Valeena was still speculating who the Summoner might be, but not a single person came to mind. Valeena sighed as she began to realize just how few people in this world she actually knew. Besides her mother, her spoiled sister and the ever changing guards and soldiers, she knew no one.
Could it be Thanos? The attacks did begin the same day he came to the castle. Valeena though. She decided that she would make a point of asking Elden more about Thanos as he seemed to know him somehow.
“Well, it doesn’t matter much who it is. It ain’t like we can stop them,” Carl said before stuffing one last berry into his mouth. He then climbed to his large feet and left the table in a huff. Valeena nodded absently, fearing he was right.
“We should get going,” Elden said, standing up in a hurry, the wooden barrel toppling over in the process.
“I wouldn’t travel in the pass at night if I was yous. A strange beast has been seen hunting in the shadows.” Jon informed them as a visible shiver shook his body. A brief expression of terror danced across his young face as he closed his eyes.
“The Night Demon?” Elden questioned mockingly, crossing his arms and sneering at the man. Jon did not seem to notice, however, as he flicked a ruby colored beetle off the table, snickering as it landed in the pocket of a passing woman’s dress.
“No, this beast hunts on four legs outside of the forest,” Jon informed them.
“We’ll take our chances,” Aira replied, turning her back to Jon, her silver hair swinging in the breeze.
“Then go, die, but we will not come for your bodies. We have enough of our own to bury.” Jon said firmly, pulling himself up off the barrel and moving away from the table. The woman shrieked loudly as she found the beetle in her pocket. The sound forced Jon to break out in a dash, his legs carrying him around the tents and out of sight.
“We should have taken their horses!” Aira complained as she watched Valeena rise from the barrel, taking a small handful of berries with her. Another beetle had landed on the makeshift table, being drawn to the bitter fruit.
“Do you see any?” Elden asked, waving his arms about. He indicated towards the primitive camp as an angry gust of wind blew one of the tents over. Several of the people cried out as they rushed to save their camp. With the tent gone, Valeena now had a clear view of the cemetery where she could see several fresh graves. Her heart sank as a few men dug were there digging new ones in the harsh, yellow grass.
“You dare speak to me Amar-gwad?” Aira shouted in anger, her eyes reflecting the hate that was burning within her. Another large gale of wind whipped through the camp, carrying several more tents away in its wake.
“Watch it elf!” Elden shouted as spit flew out of his mouth, anger burning on his face. Valeena could see his hands folding into a fist, preparing to fight. Valeena threw her own arms up in agitation as she had had enough of these two and their arguing.
“Just kill each other! I am through.” She nearly screamed in outrage as she stormed passed Elden. She had to hold down the hem of her dress as the third gust of wind made its way around her. She walked hastily passed the last of the tents that were still standing and made her into the pass. Valeena heard the heavy footsteps behind her, ignoring Elden as he called out for her to stop.
“Val! Val, wait!” Elden had a hint of desperation in his voice as he fought to meet up with her, dust kicking out from under his heavy boots. Valeena spun on her heels, hands planted firmly on her slender hips. Her blue eyes narrowed at him in clear disgust as he held out a hand to her.
“Look, Elden, you do not care for Aira and Aira thinks you are something called an Amar-gwad.” Valeena held up a hand to shush him as a dark glint of anger sparked into his black eyes.
“Please, just drop this stupid feud until we stop Queen Maylee!” Valeena scolded him, nearly pleading, as her eyes caught Aira strolling up behind them.
“I will not befriend an Amar-gwad,” Aira informed Valeena, crossing her arms over her chest. She made a point of not looking at Elden as he cursed under his breath, his face twitching from glaring at the elf.
“What does Amar-gwad even mean?” Valeena questioned Aira, ignoring the look of disgust on Elden’s face as he turned his back to them.
“Figure it out,” Aira answered.
Valeena turned her attention back to Elden, but he was lost in thought. He glanced up once before turning his back to her. But she had caught sight of a small smile forming on his handsome face. Valeena felt her own face twitch as well as she looked at him, and blushed crimson, casting her eyes aside.
“You disgust me,” Aira said. She strolled by Valeena, flipping her silver hair back over her shoulder, the scent of flowers drifting off the lovely strands. Valeena held back the wave of fresh embarrassment and said nothing as the elf continued mumbling in her native tongue.
“Wait!” A male voice rang out startling Valeena. She turned to see a young man from the tent village running towards them, waving his arms above his head.
“What?” Elden asked in annoyance, clearly not impressed by the interruption. The young man’s eyes widened in fear at the sight of Elden, but he seemed determined to speak with them regardless.
“The beast that hunts at night hates water. Just thought you should know,” His words came out in a rush, making it difficult for them to catch what he was saying. He did a double take as he spied Aira, a shy smile forming on his lips, his freckled cheeks flushing. Elden cleared his throat, causing the young man to jump. He looked ashamed for a moment before rushing back to the tents, sneaking one last peek at the lovely elf.
The pass was dry with dead grass and weeds growing wildly, strangling any flowers that had tried to bloom. They had come across a small lake with several fishing poles lying haphazardly against a flat boulder. The water was murky with insects buzzing above, making it unappealing to go near. The air smelled heavily of decay and Valeena felt her stomach flip as she realized that she had almost eaten a fish that had swam in these fouls waters.
She forced her eyes away as the sun sank lower on the horizon, casting brilliant shades of purple across the blue canvas. They had traveled in near silence as Elden and Aira refused to speak, making sure to keep their distance from each other. Valeena began to hum softly, the sound mixing with the buzzing of insect wings. A bird called out loudly from above them as it flew overhead, its white wings moving swiftly in the air.
Valeena had tried to strike up a conversation with Elden, asking timidly where the other Elements might be located. He did not seem interested in answering so she had then asked about Thanos. Elden had sneered at her before shrugging. He made no attempt of replying to her question. Valeena had then turned to Aira, pretending to take an interest in her customs. She asked what the tattoo meant but Aira had waved her words away as she quickened her pace.
Valeena sighed as she kicked a rock, watching it bounce across the dirt, only to be kicked again. Elden groaned and gave Valeena a look similar to one a father would give a child that was trying his patience.
Valeena stopped kicking the rock as embarrassment flushed on her face. She followed him once more in silence, glancing at the rock longingly as she passed by it.
“We shall rest here for the evening,” Aira announced without asking. She climbed a nearby tree that was growing along the wall of the pass, resting on its branches as gracefully as a jungle cat. Elden sat heavily on the ground, stretching out his arms and leaning back against the rocky walls. Valeena shook her head softly, sitting on a flat rock between them. She crossed her legs and rubbed at her muscles, feeling disturbed at how damp with sweat they were. Her eyes were closing despite her will to stop them. She had not noticed how tired she was until she had stopped moving.
The air smelled of dust and carried hints of the sunflowers that rested far off in the distance and out of sight. The glowing, yellow sun finished its journey across the heavens. It melted down into the horizon, night taking over as the stars sparkled above.
Valeena felt the lids of her blue eyes close as sleep wrapped its arms around her exhausted body. She heard Elden shift as he sat tall suddenly. The sound rocks bouncing on the ground that had been dislodged from above had gained his attention. Aira had silently jumped to the rocky floor of the pass, landing smoothly beside Elden, her hand on her bow.
Valeena opened her eyes slowly, blinking several times to fight off the sleep that threatened to take hold of her. She forced her aching body to stand as well, not understanding why they were suddenly on guard. A low growl emitted from the depths of the darkness, sending shivers through her skin.
There was a flash of gray fur as a large beast leaped from above them. It darted back and forth on the rocky wall, avoiding Elden’s sword attack and Aira’s rain of arrows. The animal was quick, and reared back around, striking Elden in the back. The blow caused him to stumble forwards but he was able to regain his balance before he fell.
“Water!” Aira hissed at Valeena as she performed a cartwheel-like flip. Her foot nearly missed the beast that had lunged at her arm, darting to the left to avoid the attack. “Make it rain you fool!”
Valeena had bent down and retrieved a smooth, heavy rock in her fingers, feeling foolish as she had lost the rod. She was preparing to throw the object, but the beast was moving too swiftly, its gray fur a blur in the night. She was unable to see exactly what the beast was as it continued to move in the night.
“Valeena!” Elden shouted, his sword hitting a rock that sent sparks dancing into the crisp night air. The beast stopped and made eye contact with Valeena, a puzzled expression on its face.
“Fenrir,” Valeena said softly, releasing the rock from her fingers and allowing it to slide free.
Elden took the opportunity to swing his sword forcefully towards Fenrir’s gray neck, but the beast was far too quick. He dodged the attack smoothly, leaping from rock to rock as he made his way back up the wall of the pass. The overgrown wolf landed smoothly on the land above and darted out of sight.