Memories of Gaia: The Edge of Despair

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Chapter 13 Sanctuary

Valeena’s blue eyes could see the tall, pointed, metal church steeple emerging out of the hazy mist like a beacon, leading the ship safely to its shores. The early morning sun reflected off the orb resting on top, sending sparkles of light into her eyes. The ship would be docking at any moment and Valeena was still unsure of how they would disembark without Trevor or Seto finding her. She was still confused about last night and could not help but wonder why he was helping her.

“Are you sure you even heard the conversation correctly?” Aira questioned several times, peering over Valeena’s shoulder to soak in the view of the city. The fog was too thick to see any of the ground itself. It was as if the steeple was floating alone in the clouds, like a ship out to sea.

Valeena frowned. She was positive they were speaking about her last night. Who else could it be? She sighed, leaving the circular window and sitting on the edge of the bed, the sheets crinkling under her as she thought about Seto. She sighed as she scratched her forehead, her fingers crossing over her smooth crystal.

“Wait!” Valeena said as she jumped to her feet, looking at Elden and Aira. “I have a plan!”

The ship sailed smoothly into the waiting, ancient wooden docks. The ship's horn sounded loudly to warn other ships of its arrival. The fog began to swirl together as the particles became dense. The tiny beads of water began quickening, sending bullet like water drops down onto the sleeping city.

Several women screamed in frustration as they threw their arms in the air to shield their faces from the sudden attack. The salty wind offered no help as it blasted through the city with typhoon force. The wind ripped multicolored umbrellas out of their hands and into the air, stinging their faces in the process.

Hats sailed off of several of the men’s heads, bouncing down the streets like tumbleweed in the desert sands. The sudden storm caused the people to scatter like ants as they disembarked the ship searching for the safety of indoors.

Queen Maylee strolled through the falling water as though nothing was going on. She entered a nearby cafe that smelled heavily of brewing coffee and sweet pastries. She narrowed her olive eyes as she searched the sudden storm, ignoring the way people went out of their way to avoid her. She was not pleased by the abrupt change in weather and knew that Valeena was behind it. She was on board the ship somewhere and the Queen had failed to find her.

She demanded her soldiers capture Valeena the moment that she appeared. They were instructed to use as much force as they saw fit without killing her. Queen Maylee felt her heart beat quicken in anger as the sky darkened, turning the day into night.

“They are within the city walls,” Thanos informed the Queen. He chose not to acknowledge the annoyed look on the Queen’s round face as he pointed out the obvious. Her makeup had run on the sides of her face giving her the appearance of a crying clown. Thanos bite his tongue so as not to laugh at her face. He turned his head away, snickering as he saw her reflection in the glass window. It was like a clown's ghost haunting him.

Princess Aurory, who was eating her blueberry muffin like a farm animal, licked her lips loudly and burped. She then demanded another muffin before her first one was even finished. Princess Aurory jumped to her feet, the chair tipping backward and smashing into the brown tiled floor. She made no attempt to pick it up as she rushed to the counter, smiling.

“Oh! Give me the cherry one! No! No, the strawberry!” Princess Aurory shouted as she pressed her face against the glass display case that held donuts in multiple flavors. The female worker glanced nervously at her boss, seeing the Queen's glare via her reflection in the glass. The manager gave a short, quick nod and the girl reached in, giving the spoiled brat her undeserved treat. She jerked her hand back as the muffin was snatched quickly from her hands.

“Find them.” Queen Maylee ordered, watching disapprovingly as Thanos struggled to open the door against the storm. He finally tugged it open and entered the cascading rain, disappearing around the side of the building.

Queen Maylee turned to the Princess as she said, "Please stop that. I know you are trying to be funny, but I am not laughing."

Princess Aurory set the muffin down as tears rimmed her eyes. She had been eating it with two hands, stuffing her mouth without chewing. She watched as her mother returned to the store window, searching for Valeena.

Valeena, Aira, and Elden had slipped off the ship in the midst of the confusion, using a ‘walk slowly’ sign as a shield. They had spotted the Queen making her way towards the cafe and waited to move until Thanos had taken off around the side of the building. They quickly ran east, slipping on puddles of water that had pooled on the streets. Several times Valeena even bumped into one of the terrified people that were still trying to flee from the storm.

“In here,” Aira hissed as she forced open a heavy wooden door that was attached to a thick, gray stone building. Elden was the last through the door, slamming it firmly shut behind him as the sound echoed off the bare walls.

Valeena leaned on the smooth wall beside Elden, breathing hard as her heart pounded loudly in her ears. She shook her head, trying to rid her hair of the excess water, and saw Elden doing the same. Aira was twisting her braid, squeezing the water out.

“Why have you not burst into flames?” Aira’s slightly amused voice broke the silence. Valeena did not understand what the elf meant by that. Why would Elden burst into flames? For the first time since she entered the building moments before, Valeena took in her surroundings. They were in a long, rectangular like room with dimly lit torches that gave off small amounts of light. Two rows of pews lined the center of the room creating three separate areas to walk, the middle one leading to a raised area where an altar sat.

Above the altar rested a stain glass window with an image of a beautiful, blonde haired, female angel reaching its slender arm out towards Gaia. A small red dot that could easily be mistaken for one of Gaia’s moons was also on the image. Candles on several spiked holders were on either side of the altar, their flames flickering in the darkness. The church building smelled old and musty, with a hint of burning sage. Valeena loved it because it reminded her vaguely of the library back at the castle.

The door they had used to enter was near the center of the room on the left-hand side. It appeared to be a quiet exit for those who did not wish to leave via the large double doors at the end and disturb the other people.

Elden sneered at the elf, contempt burning in his black eyes. He was oblivious to the glares he was receiving from a few of the patrons that had been kneeling in prayer. They were clearly displeased by the sudden intrusion.

The main double doors burst open loudly as two figures appeared, allowing the waterfall of rain to pour into the church like a faucet. Valeena felt a jolt of panic dance in her heart as she recognized the pair in the door frame. It was Seto and Trevor.

“Shut that door!” An old man hollered. He shook his bent, polished cane at the pair standing in the frame, anger flashing on his worn face.

“Pipe down, pops,” Trevor replied rudely. Seto, however, shut the doors as a red apple sailed passed his head, courtesy of the old man. The apple smashed into the wall by his upper arm, spraying bits of juicy fruit onto his sleeve.

“Watch it old man! We are here to find someone, don’t make me take you in their place!” Trevor threatened as he flashed the black dragon on the red star that was pin to his shirt. The old man released an audible gasp as narrow eyes widen. He quickly turned around, lowering his head in mock prayer, his eyes staring at the floor.

Valeena pressed herself firmly against the brick wall, nudging Elden in the ribs sharply. Elden was staring at the duo, looking in disgust as Trevor stomped mud off his boots onto the ancient wood floors. Elden glanced at Valeena as she mouthed the words, ‘it’s them’. She tried not to look at Seto’s handsome face as fear rushed over her.

Aira was slowly reaching for her bow, ignoring Valeena’s silent attempts to stop her. The elf’s fingers brushed against the feathers of an arrow just as the torches went out, a blanket of shadows falling upon them. The only remaining light came from the stained glass window near the altar. The light illuminating a single book that was resting on its surface.

“Hey!” Trevor called out sharply, his startled voice reverberating off the empty walls. “How can we find someone in the dark?” He demanded forcefully, a soft thump sounding out as he attacked the wall with his fist.

“Can I help you?” A male voice asked, emitting from somewhere near the altar.

“Butt out! This is officially none of your business!” Trevor yelled back, nudging Seto in the ribs for reinforcement.

“Oh, just come on!” Seto said softly, keeping his voice low. “Let’s just search the church without causing a scene!” Seto began to move deliberately down the aisle, casually looking back and forth down the pews. The way he moved gave Valeena the impression that he was pretending to look. Trevor, on the other hand, dropped to his knees and peered under a pew, hitting his head on the seat as he stood up, cursing.

“Dammit! They had to of gone this way, Steel said she saw them enter the building.” Trevor was saying, his eyes looking straight ahead at the altar now. His hand was still rubbing his sore head as he mumbled under his breath. The patrons kept their heads low as the duo passed, not wanting to gain their attention.

Valeena held her breath as Seto glanced her way, her body pressed painfully flat against the stone. She swore their eyes met briefly, but he said nothing as he continued to the altar where the figure stood.

“You may leave my building via the door through that room.” The voice instructed as one arm motioned towards the left-hand side of the raised area where a door was barely visible among the shadows.

Trevor made a rude comment that was drowned out by a massive clap of thunder that rolled through the church. Valeena lowered her head a hair, just enough to watch Seto travel into the room behind the altar. The door closed and he was out of sight as another clap of thunder rolled in the sky above them.

Valeena turned her head slowly towards Elden. His crystal was glowing a soft gray and he had a determined look on his handsome, pale face. Valeena sighed with relief, there was no way Seto had seen her. Elden had been using his crystal to protect them.

The man who had remained in the shadows near the altar was making his way towards them, his hands clasp together. Aira was once more reaching for her bow, but the man raised a hand, and she hesitated, glaring at him.

“I have no intentions of harboring fugitives in my church!” He said firmly. His scarlet eyes flickering to the old man who was obviously spying on them as he stared at an upside down hymn book.

“But seeing as you have called for sanctuary, I must abide by the old laws and allow you to stay.” He gave a half smile and winked as the old man gasped, trying poorly to disguise it as a cough.

“You may stay here as long as you need. The Queen and her army do not seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. I see she even brought the Drake. A bunch of worthless morons if you ask me,”

Valeena was startled by his negative remark about the Drake. There were only a few people who dared to breathe a word against the Queen or her army and those who did were usually never seen again. She had never heard about the Drake before, and wondered when her mother had started that.

The torches burst to life, their flames burning stronger than before. Their light gave Valeena the opportunity to get a good look at the man who had helped them. He was tall, with broad shoulders, and appeared to be very muscular. His face was square shaped with a narrow nose and wide eyes. His skin was a dark reddish brown that was almost cinnamon like. He had spiked ebony hair that did nothing to hide the stubs of chiseled down horns. He was wearing a silky red shirt with a black unbuttoned vest over it. He had a gold chain necklace with a fire emblem dangling hanging around his neck. His pants were a dark jean material with two belts that crossed and fell by his thighs.

On his feet, he wore heavy boots, which surprised Valeena as his steps had been so light. But what stood out the most was the fireball shaped crystal that was planted firmly on his forehead. He had a scar running from one end of the fireball arch towards his left, scarlet eye.

“I’m Rowan Crag.” He said. His voice held a soft accent, this time, one that suggested he was not from the city. He extended a wide hand out to them, just as Seto had done.

Valeena was about to shake it when she noticed his fingernails came to short, deadly points, like talons on a small animal. Instead, she kept her hands in tight fist by her sides, hoping Elden or Aira would return the gesture. When it was clear no one was going to, Rowan lowered his hand, making a fist, the smile fading slowly as well. Aira raised her bow, an arrow pointed at his throat as she locked eyes with him.

“You’re not human.” It was not a question. It was a statement, one that she said out of interest. Rowan smiled, revealing two rows of sharp, pointed teeth.

“No, no I’m not,” He confirmed ignoring the sounds of annoyance emitting from the old man.

“I’m a human hybrid known as a Reap. I was found in the mountains by the preacher. He brought me here to live with them, saying I was evil and needed to be healed.” Rowan laughed at the memory. “His wife thought I was the devil.” His hand unconsciously went to the nubs where his horns once stood and laughed again, “She meant well.”

Aira replaced her bow and sank into one of the chestnut colored pews, rolling her silver eyes in the process. Rowan was not bothered by her rudeness, as he waited for them to add something to his story.

Elden crossed his arms and looked down at his boots, clearly uninterested in the reap. Valeena felt that she should ask him something- anything- as he had been kind enough to let them stay in his church.

"You're the fire element, " Valeena said. She could not help but smile as Rowan grinned at her, nodding.

"That's right. So you understand why my mom thought I was the devil." He laughed again, his teeth flashing in the light.

"I am sure my mother thinks I am the devil as well, " Valeena offered as she forced an awkward laugh.

"Are you going to spend your day gossiping? Or are you going to offer a sermon today?" The old man huffed as he realized his book was upside down. He quickly flipped it over and hoped that no one had noticed.

Rowan let his smile fade and turned his back to Valeena as he made his way back up the aisle. He began to chant softly in a baritone voice from the hymn book resting near him in a language Valeena had never heard before.

Valeena felt that she should have at least offered to let him join them on their quest as she sat down on the same pew as Aira. She made sure to keep her distance from the unfriendly elf as she scooted further away from her.

‘Now, what?’ Valeena thought, crossing her arms over her chest and sighing. She knew just how stubborn the Queen was, and feared that their stay in the church may be a long one. Trevor and Seto could reappear at any second as well. And Steel herself might finally make an appearance.

Valeena did not realize that she had fallen asleep until Elden was shaking her roughly by the shoulders, saying something about her yelling and crying. Valeena jerked away from him, ignoring the eyes of the patrons that were staring at her in fear.

“I am fine, just... bad dreams,” Valeena informed him, unable to meet his eyes. Elden said nothing as he sank back down onto the dusty pew. Valeena felt embarrassment burn on her cheeks as the last patron returned to their prayers, glancing one last time at the possessed girl.

Valeena wished that the dream would just fade away and stop plaguing her sleep. Queen Maylee had told her there was no meaning behind it, and that Valeena should just forget about it. But clearly, she could not. Valeena let her mind shift from the dream to thoughts of escaping the church.

Rowan cleared his throat loudly, causing Valeena to glance up, abandoning her thoughts of self-pity. Rowan had left the altar once more and was making his way towards her. He dropped a hymn book near her hands before returning to his post.

Valeena left the book where it lay, closing her eyes as Rowan’s lovely hymn filled the church. The hymn was being sung in that strange language but it felt like it was about hope, pushing forth when the darkness fell. Valeena believed the hymn was written for her and smiled.

“If you wish to remain in my church, please open your hymn book to page 394 and follow along,” Rowan said. His voice caused Valeena to jump as her eyes opened to find that his scarlet eyes were burning into hers. He watched her as she grabbed the book and opened it to a random page. She held up the book and stared at the unrecognizable writing.

“Page 394,” He repeated more forcefully, clasping his hands together on the altar as he prepared to wait for her to follow his directions. Valeena gave a weak smile and held up the book so Rowan could see it was open.

“Page 3-9-4!” Rowan's voice had flecks of impatience in it as the light of the flames flared once before dimming. He leaned on the altar, raising his eyebrows. The old man huffed, shaking his head and coughing.

“Oh!” Valeena gasped as she flicked smoothly through the silky pages, her own patience wearing thin. She was tired, hungry, and not in the mood to sing. Rowan began to chant once more, his scarlet eyes closing as his soothing baritone voice floated through the air.

Valeena shook her head and decided she was still not in the mood to sing. Instead, she merely glanced at the words in the language she did not understand, in order to keep Rowan from snapping at her again. It was then that she noticed a thin piece of yellow paper that had been tucked into the crease of the page. The writing was in sharp, yet neat letters and seemed urgent.

“At the end of the city lies a maze known as the Labyrinth, it leads to the mountains. To get to the mouth of the Labyrinth you must travel to the cemetery.”

A small map had been drawn showing them the quickest way to the cemetery. Valeena studied the small map, wondering if she should trust Rowan. He had lied to the Drake and even claimed they had called for sanctuary. He had no reason to help them, but no reason to send them to harm’s way either.

Valeena folded the note in half, securing it back into the crease. She then passed the book to Elden, who stopped it with his hand, pushing it back towards her.

“No, he said you have to follow along!” Valeena hissed, shoving the ancient book back at him hard.

“You are such a goody-goody!” Elden snapped harshly, grabbing the book and slamming it down on the pew with a loud clap, dust lifting into the air.

“Just open the damn thing!” Valeena said, turning away from him. She felt ashamed of herself for having cursed in a church and apologized to whichever called lived here. She heard Elden mumbled under his breath as he roughly turned the pages, glaring at Valeena as he did so.

Valeena did not meet his eyes as his he stared at her. Instead, she stayed focused on her nails, pretending to be admiring them. She knew Elden had found the note the second the hymn book fell roughly into her lap, their eyes meeting briefly as he gave a quick nod.

Valeena then passed the book to Aira, who had been watching them carefully as they handed back and forth, sensing there was something going on. Aira vehemently snatched the book away, flipping through the pages quickly. She stared at the note for a few minutes before she shutting the book. She then carelessly tossed it aside like yesterday’s news and ignored Valeena’s attempts at communicating.

The old man, obviously sensing foul play, hastily snatched up the hymn book. He began thumbing through the pages quickly, yet carefully, his old eyes scanning the words wildly.

“Page 394, Mr. Norsewore,” Rowan spoke casually. He took the book from the old man and found the page for him. The old man craned his neck to see over the tall reaps shoulders as he flipped through the pages. Rowan handed the book back to the old man, who grabbed it with greedy hands and looked it over as confusion crossed his aging face. Mr. Norsewore stared at Rowan, closing the book slowly and tucking it under his arm. He knew he had been tricked.

“I best be on my way.” He said hobbling towards the double doors, his cane clicking softly as his feet shuffled on the floor. “It's nearly supper time and all,”

Elden was on his feet and rushed to help Mr. Norsewore as he hobbled towards the door. Elden reached the handle first and pulled one of the large doors open for the old man, a gesture that surprised Valeena.

Mr. Norsewore stared at Elden for a moment before a look of confusion spread on his wrinkled face. The old man handed Elden the book as he thanked him for holding the door before leaving the building. Through the open door, Valeena could see that the storm was ebbing. The once powerful drops of water were now no more than misty beads.

Elden remained by the doors, jumping up to open them as the patrons left, each wearing a similar look of confusion, but thanking Elden anyway. Some seemed confused to be leaving the church so early as they had only begun the afternoon prayers.

A sweet old woman wearing a floral dress tried to give Elden a piece of hard candy that she had removed from the bottom of her purse. But he had declined to accept it, stating she may need it for later. The old woman chuckled and placed the candy back in her bag as she hobbled out into the mist. It was odd to Valeena, to see Elden act so polite. It was a new side of him that she was beginning to enjoy.

Finally, the last of the patrons made their way out of the building, the doors shut firmly behind them. Elden flicked the lock firmly into place as he turned his attention to Valeena. His features began clouding over and the familiar look of disgust was returning.

“Let’s go.”

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