Chapter 14 Steel
“Are you coming?” Elden repeated. His hand was resting on the cold, brass, door handle as a clear look of irritation crossed his face. He was speaking to Rowan, who had led them to the room behind the altar. It was a small area, nearly empty save for a desk, a bookcase, and a dimly lit lamp. The back door could easy be mistaken for a closet as it was tall and narrow. Valeena had told him everything she knew about the Queen and the Elements. Aira did not offer a word and Elden remained just as silent. He seemed annoyed she had brought up the Elements but said nothing other than a huff.
“I belong here, you three go. Save the world.” Rowan replied, his voice flat.
“She could kill you.” Valeena pushed, feeling that Rowan could somehow aid them in their quest. Or maybe it was because of his crystal, which looked like it had the fires of Hades brewing inside.
“I do not turn sixteen for a while. She will become bored and leave the city long before then. The shops can only produce so many sweets.” Rowan responded, a feeble smile playing on his face. He refused to listen to any more talk on the matter, ending their conversation as he said firmly. “I can’t leave the preacher or his wife, they need me. The church needs me.”
“Take care,” Valeena said awkwardly, patting him on the arm, a gesture that felt weird to her. Rowan laughed, shaking her hand off.
“I’ll be fine, really.” He seemed so sure that Valeena wanted to believe him.
Aira was eager to leave as she hated the city. She claimed it was too human and smelled of must and greed. Aira did not try to talk Rowan into joining their quest but did mention that Elden should stay behind.
Valeena followed Elden and Aira out into the narrow alley behind the long church, keeping their eyes peeled for the Queen’s soldiers. The rain was a light, misty drizzle, Valeena claimed she could not stop it for it was a natural act of one of the Gods. In reality, she was anxious about their trip across the city when it was crawling with guards and the Drake.
Valeena felt she had a right to be suspicious of Seto as it was now confirmed that he was working for the Queen, but Valeena could not hate his handsome face. She caught the eyes of Aira and quickly looked away, hoping her face was not still set in a day dream.
“Did you grab the note?” Aira asked even though she was the last one who had been holding the book. Valeena shook her head no, trying to remember the detailed drawing Rowan had scribbled for them.
“What a shame, you might need it if we become separated. Humans have a poor sense of direction after all.” Aira smiled at her insult as she slipped around the side of the building. She had her back flat against the wall, her silver eyes searching the alley for any sign of movement. Elden followed, trying his best to make his footsteps light despite the heavy boots he wore. He pushed to get ahead of the nimble elf, but she was too quick.
They said nothing as they darted down the wet paved streets, ducking behind green bushes, or pressing into tall doorways. The buildings in the city had been built close together with several of the homes sharing a wall. The citizens did not seem bothered by the rain, as the city was known for its constant precipitation.
The soldiers stood out among the crowds in their ebony uniforms, making it all too easy to spot them. They were like weeds among a garden, and just as vile.
A woman wearing a faded gray jacket and skirt exited a nearby shop, gasping at the sight of the guards who were standing ten feet away. She turned on her heels and ran, slipping on the wet pavement, cursing under her breath. She darted around the corner and out of sight.
Up ahead, Valeena spotted the peak of an angel’s head, standing out in the fog, a clear indication the cemetery was near. The paved road broke off into different shades of slate as newer parts of the city sprung up, making it more confusing to navigate.
“Just a few more blocks,” Valeena informed them, receiving quick nods from the others in return as their feet slipped on the wet stone. They were near another, larger cafe, the smell of freshly baked pastries swirling into the air made Valeena’s mouth water.
She longed to try one of the pink, strawberry cakes that sat in the window. Valeena had always been denied their sweet taste at the castle, watching longingly as Princess Aurory stuffed them into her mouth.
As she stared a the desserts, a couple of Star soldiers stepped out of the cafe, stuffing their faces with large, double glazed jelly, donuts. The pastries looked divine.
“I bet I can stuff this whole pastry into my mouth in one bite just like the Queen!” One soldier said, invoking a nervous laugh from the other soldier. He was an overweight man himself with a large stain on his uniform.
“I doubt I can, though! No one’s mouth is as big as hers!” He continued, doubling over in laughter at his own insult. “I hear she can unhinge her jaw like a snake! And, and then she swallows her prey whole!”
“Careful, the last person who laughed at the Queen ended up in the dungeon strung up by his toes.” The second soldier warned, glancing around the streets nervously. He was taller than the first man, with long brown hair and a scar on his left cheek. He was holding a brown donut with chocolate icing. The treat had brightly colored sprinkles of every color resting on top of it. He had finished his first donut, regretting taking a second as his stomach hurt from the sugar.
“Oh, come on!” The first soldier said but he too, glanced around the area just to be safe. He then proceeded to cram the pink cake into his mouth, frosting gathering on the sides of his cheeks in the process. His eyes scanned the area again, passing over Valeena as he chuckled to himself. The greedy soldier did a double take, his eyes locking on Valeena this time.
Fortunately for Valeena, he choked on his greed as he smacked his partner in the arm, pointing vigorously in her direction. His strikes had knocked the chocolate donut out of his friend's hands and into a puddle. The tall soldier stared at it sadly as the rain water began dissolving it.
Valeena grabbed Elden by the arm and pulled him in the opposite direction, knocking into Aira. Valeena hoped they could round the corner before the second soldier saw them. As if on cue, the soldier turned in their direction as panic crossed his face. He cupped his hands to his mouth and began shouting loudly, “Code Blue! Code Blue! This is not a drill!”
Valeena, Aira, and Elden were running now, twisting around buildings and ducking under carts. They pushed past several groups of people who called out to them in protest. Valeena was sure that they would get lost as they continued to run, her legs pumping as hard as she could. Her quick feet kept slipping on the wet stone making her wish she was bare foot like Aira. The cemetery had been so close before, but now, she did not know if she could find it again.
People screamed and fled to avoid being hit or knocked over as the three of them pressed on, glancing back now and then to see if the soldiers were still pursuing them. Out of the corner of her eye, Valeena caught a glimpse of several Star soldiers roughly hauling a familiar muscular man down the slick streets. The man was shackled at the heels, his hands tied behind his back with a black blindfold over his eyes.
“Rowan!” Valeena shouted sharply, but her voice was drowned out by the din of the gathering crowd. She was running again, in a separate direction from her friends, her legs aching, her lungs burning in protest.
“Val!” Elden had called out, but she did not hesitate. She pushed herself to run faster as she had to reach Rowan. Valeena noticed that the citizens seemed to be gathering in the center of the town, causing her to think she would find Rowan there. She slowed her pace and ducked into the crowd, hanging back by a leafless tree while keeping her eyes peeled for the soldiers.
A raised circular stone platform sat in the center of town, with an altar resting in the middle of it. A stunning woman stood firmly near the altar, and just by her attire alone, Valeena knew she was not from the Star kingdom. Valeena realized that she had finally found Steel.
The woman wore a quarter sleeve crisp, white, blouse, that button once by her collar. It then was split open exposing her breast, with white ruffles lining the top and sides. Underneath, she wore a bright, pink, skirt that had ruffles at an angle, falling just above her knee. A thick lavender belt was wrapped around her waist, and a wide headband in a matching color rested in long, wavy, platinum blonde hair. A piece of her hair on the left side was dyed hot pink and curled.
On her feet, she wore tall, knee high, white boots that had a strip of pink on each side. Thick bangles hung from her wrist as she her long, pink nails through her hair. She was smiling, a hateful expression on her otherwise lovely, heart-shaped, tan face. Valeena wondered why someone so beautiful chose to willingly be in the company of the gnarly Queen.
The soldiers dragged their prisoner up the rough, stone steps, kicking at Rumen’s legs as he fought them. Rowan was then forced roughly to the altar, where he was placed in a kneeling position, his head just visible over the lip of the altar. Valeena felt a chill run down her spine as she realized this was a public execution. They were going to behead him!
“I have before you a traitor to our Kingdom!” Steel spoke, her voice soft yet forceful, instantly grabbing the attention of the already hostile crowd. Valeena gasped as she realized that the lovely Costal Del Lágrimas had somehow become part of the Star Kingdom. One more city had been lost to the greedy Queen.
“On this day, he was caught harboring fugitives!” Steel continued, her voice loud and powerful.
Several boos rang out from the crowd, and someone even threw an oversized apple. Valeena suspected it had been old Mr. Norsewore even if she could not see him.
Valeena felt panic growing within her heart. They cannot kill him! Queen Maylee would never allow it for his crystal will die with him! Did she see his crystal? Her mind screamed the words that her throat could not.
Valeena was paralyzed with fear, unable to move, to call out. Not that anyone would hear her over the din of the crowd as they shouted and booed madly.
Valeena spotted Trevor and Seto standing in front of the altar, arms crossed, trying their best to look official, but coming off as awkward instead. Trevor broke into a foolish smile several times, chuckling to himself. While Seto seemed indifferent, his eyes downcast, his lips set in a thin line.
Valeena searched the area for Queen Maylee, but she was nowhere in sight. Valeena could feel her malevolent presence however, and knew she was watching the scene from somewhere within the shadows.
“The penalty for his crimes is death!” Steel’s hot pink mouth shouted to the crowd, which responded with roars of approval as several people clapped their hands. Steel placed her hands on her slender hips and allowed the crowd to boo and shout. Another apple pegged Rowan in the chest, the fruit bouncing off him and rolling away.
“No!” Valeena managed to choke out, but her words fell on deaf ears. The crowd was feeding off of the energy Steel was providing, her lovely face sneering at the people.
The overcast sky was darkening despite it being mid-afternoon, and Valeena scanned the crowd for Elden. She spotted him with Aira perched on a rooftop, barely visible over the stone lip. Aira had her bow out, leaning on the ledge, an arrow poised to be shot.
Steel strutted around the altar like a model on her runway, pausing to pose as she riled the people. Her lovely face was smirking as she was clearly enjoying the chaos.
“Death!” She shouted once more, pumping a fist into the air as the crowd chanted her words.
“Death! Death! Death!”
Steel then made her way to the altar, picking up a long jeweled sword that had been resting on a small stand, the sun glinting off the gems. The crowd fell silent, watching the blade intently, the tension growing.
Valeena cried out again in fear, her blue eyes darting from Steel to Aira. What was she waiting for? Shoot, damn it! Shoot!
Steel held the blade tightly as a soldier forced Rumen’s head onto the altar, exposing his dark, red colored neck. Rowan struggled hard against the restraints, but the soldiers were stronger, holding him firmly in place. The last of the fading light glistened off the blade of the sword as Steel swung the blade downwards.