Chapter 20 Elden's secret
The park was a beautiful oasis. The lush green grass was laid down like a thick carpet as the flowers burst forth in vibrant colors among the shade of the trees and shrubs. A tall simple fountain sat dead center, offering refreshing, cool water to anyone that wandered near. Valeena was thankful that Titan had left it alone on his path of destruction.
Valeena found Aira, and Rowan sitting on a park bench together, having a conversation about weapons. Aira insisted that the bow was better as it was a great long distance weapon, light weight and reliable. And up close, you could use it to smash the face of your enemies!
Rowan, however, was saying his fist were the best weapons as they were always on hand. He then laughed at his little joke, throwing his head back, spotting Valeena who was standing nearby, feeling slightly awkward.
“Did you figure it out?” Rowan asked nudging his head towards the once beautiful library. Valeena was momentarily confused as her mind was still on the conversation she had had with her Aunt Zuri.
“Let me guess, you went shopping and forgot?” Rowan had a look of disappointment on his as he spoke. He waved a hand b his nose by a sour look crossed his face. Valeena blushed, she had used a liberal amount of perfume and could feel it on her skin.
“Oh, um no,” Valeena made her way to a bench near them, forcing her mind to focus on the library events. Aira shifted her body away, covering her mouth. A light wind danced between them.
“No, I know what Amar-gwad means now.” It was Aira’s turn to smile. But, before she could ask, Rowan was talking again.
“Good, what else did you learn?” Rowan pressed, leaning back with his elbows on the bench, bumping Aira with his foot as he crossed his legs. She brushed the dirt off her, trying to sneer despite the smile that toyed with her lips.
Valeena glanced around the beautiful park, making sure Elden was not around before speaking. “I did not figure out what is going on with him. The chapter on Vampires sounded promising yet I do not believe he is one.”
“Very good and you are correct, he is not a vampire.” Rowan nodded, smiling, motioning for her to continue. Aira, however, shook her head in frustration.
“You are so simple not to see it.”
“No, she’s not simple. She had a different upbringing than us.” Rowan defended, irritating Aira who turned sideways so her back was to him.
“What does Amar-gwad mean?” Aira asked, her silvery eyes staring straight ahead, refusing to look at the pair. It was Valeena’s turn to smile in triumph.
“It means demon blood.” She said proudly, her sudden joy attenuated by Aira’s quick shake of her head.
“That is almost correct. Amar has two meanings as there are two great elven tribes and most only follow the one language. In my language, Amar means cursed.” Aira clarified, putting her bow on her lap. “Cursed blood,”
“To your people, he is an Amar-gwad. But what would he be to the rest of us?” Valeena questioned, pretending to be confused in hopes of tricking the elf. Aira smiled and held up a single finger.
“That is for you to figure out.”
Valeena sighed. “Can you not just tell me? I am sure Elden would not be pleased if you did.” Valeena said slyly, trying to play on the hate Aira had for Elden.
“It is a very tempting offer, but I cannot,” Aira informed her, looking towards Rowan who had been listening to their conversation, thinking.
“Why not?” Valeena did not understand why Aira would not just tell her. This game of hide and seek was growing old, she was becoming increasingly more irritated.
“My people are forbidden to say his human name,” Aira said in a way that forced Valeena to wonder if she were being truthful. There was a deep look of sorrow in her eyes as she glanced away.
“Tell you what, if you really want to figure this out, ask Elden. I’m not going to tell you simply for the fact I’m giving Elden the opportunity to tell you first.” Rowan chimed in, shrugging slightly. “Honestly, it’s not really that big of a deal. I am just having fun.”
“You two are simply impossible! You know Elden cannot tell me because of his curse!” Valeena felt very frustrated with them. Why did they have to drag it out? Was Elden really that awful? Valeena climbed to her feet, anger taking over. “I do not care what he is! I happen to enjoy his company.”
“Val?” Valeena spun around in shock to find Elden standing behind her, his expression hard to read.
“Is it really that important to you?” Elden asked, his eyes locking on hers. He did not appear upset, his expression was changing to one of concern and yet, Valeena thought she saw a flicker of hope. Valeena shot Rowan and Aira a nasty look for not warning her that Elden was approaching as they clearly saw him walking this way.
“It is not that it is important, it is just everyone knows but me. I suppose it is sheer curiosity that drives me to want to find out.” Valeena confessed. Elden nodded in understanding.
“I’ll tell you someday,” Elden said, a half smile playing on his lips.
“Then there shall be no more talk of it until then,” Valeena demanded, looking from Elden to Rowan and finally Aira. Rowan held his hands up.
“That’s fine by me.” But his expression made Valeena question if he was really ready to drop it that easily.
Aira sneered. “I will do as I please.” She crossed her arms defiantly, daring Valeena to argue her. Valeena sighed, she was not in the mood to fight Aira.
“I learned today that Queen Maylee is not my mother,” Valeena said softly, deciding to change the subject, and this tidbit of information was all her tired mind had at the moment.
“You were adopted, too?” Rowan asked as surprise mixed with sorrow crossed his dark face. Valeena felt tears threatening to fall as she collapsed on the bench. Elden placed a hand on her shoulder to comfort her as she fought back the tears.
“No.” It was nearly inaudible as a misty rain mixed itself into the warm, afternoon sunlight. Valeena told them all she had learned from her lost Aunt Zuri, her voice cracking several times. When she was through, the mist was now a light drizzle, soaking their clothes. No one spoke a word about the rain.
“Oh, Valeena,” Aira’s voice was light, her eyes brimming with tears. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it, playing with her bow.
“At least you are not related to that lady.” Rowan chimed in, trying to make light of the situation. Valeena felt her lips tug into a smile despite herself, wiping tears away.
“I wonder who my real parents were.” Valeena pondered as Elden squeezed her shoulder and turned to Aira.
“Aira, do you know your birth parents?” He asked, Aira’s face becoming hard, her eyes boring into Elden.
“What does that matter to you?” She asked, refusing to blink her lovely eyes as a gale of wind whipped passed them, uprooting a vibrant yellow flower. The petals danced through the wind and into a young man’s face.
“I thought so. And Rowan, you said the preacher adopted you?” Elden turned to the Reap, who simply nodded.
“And I, I don’t know my birth parents either.” Elden continued, pointing to himself, secretly happy the rain stopped.
“You were born out of the fires of Hades!” Aira snapped, but her insult was not as sharp as usual. The wind died to a pleasant breeze, her crystal fading as the light from the three lines disappeared.
“So, none of us know who our real parents are…” Valeena clarified, suddenly feeling not so alone. No one seemed to mind the light rain, even when a slight wind weaved its way in. Valeena turned to Elden.
“Where did you grow up?” But a look of pain crossed his face and Valeena dropped it.
“Let’s just get moving,” Elden suggested silently, his eyes avoiding hers. Valeena wished she knew how to help him. She hung her head, biting her lip, thinking.
“We can take the train across the desert to Kingyosou,” Rowan informed them, trying to get their minds back on the quest at hand. Valeena nodded absently. She had always wanted to ride on a train, they were forbidden in the Star Kingdom. The Queen claimed they were loud and dirty. Valeena bit her tongue to prevent her from informing her that the same thing could be said about Princess Aurory.
“Let’s go,” Valeena said, eager to escape the awkwardness that was settling between them.
The train station was attached to the park via a lovely red brick path lined with oak trees that were dripping with fat, evergreen leaves. It was a simple wooden platform with a long brick building for people to purchase their tickets from. Rows of red iron benches lined the walls, shaded by large, sky blue umbrellas. The station was void of people as a sleek, ebony train rested on the tracks.
“Excuse me,” Valeena called out to a gentleman in a navy blue jumpsuit who was washing the train despite the recent rain. He paused for a moment, setting down the square yellow bucket of soapy water, not answering Valeena.
“When is the next train scheduled to depart?” Valeena asked, stopping a few paces before the man, watching him dunk the end of a flat sponge at the end of a long pole into the bucket.
“Maybe tomorrow, I dunno. It depends on if we get any coal to fuel the train.” The man responded, washing layers of coal dust and desert grains of sand off the train.
“Is it normal for there to be a delay? You are famous for your trains.” Rowan said, beaming at the giant machine.
The man laughed. “That we are, but with the war going on between the Reaps and the Goblins, no one is receiving coal.” Valeena had not heard of any war, and her face must have shown her confusion for the man set the mop down, staring at her.
“In fact, it’s all your mom’s fault,” The man accused, pointing a dirty finger at Valeena.
“The Queen? How?”
“Well, the evil cow,” He paused and glanced around quickly before relaxing again. “Blew up Nero, which we all know was a town of Reaps.” He waited for them to nod, acknowledging they knew this. “And the Reaps fled to the mountains were their mortal enemies the Goblins live. She started the war on purpose.”
“They could have fled elsewhere,” Elden said, gesturing towards the half-destroyed city.
“Where? Kingyosou would have fired at them, and we don’t want them here. Dolomite blew up twelve years ago and Costa Del Lágrimas may have taken them in, but the Reaps have roots in the mountains. It’s where their people first originated from before the Goblins took over. I did hear some fled to the Caspian, but I doubt it.”
Valeena was stunned, she barely heard Aira ask the man what the Queen had to gain from such an attack as coal was a not main source of fuel these days. The man laughed harshly, turning back to scrubbing the train, whistling a tune, indicating he was done with them.
“The Queen uses fossil fuels. She has no need for coal.” Valeena chimed in, starting to understand why the Queen bombed Nero. The Queen is slowly trying to cut off the world’s resources. “That and electricity!”
“Why will Caspian not step in?” Valeena questioned, looking to Aira for support but the elf shrugged her thin shoulders, peering towards the distance where the peaks of the mountains were barely visible on the hazy horizon.
“They are a peaceful kingdom and will not engage in war unless they strike within the Kingdom itself,” Rowan said, frustration building in his voice. There was no one who wanted to oppose the Queen. She was snatching the world as quickly as Princess Aurory took sweets. And for what reason? Valeena felt like her head was numb.
“We need to stop her!” Valeena was saying, the others nodding absently in agreement.
“The Elements can help with that.” Elden casually brought up, Aira rolling her eyes and scoffing. Elden ignored her glare and turned to Rowan and Valeena, making a point of leaving Aira out.
“There is nothing we can do standing here arguing, we need to form a more solid plan.” Rowan had said before Elden could speak, slamming his massive fist together. “Finding the Element’s is great, but we need to know what we are up against.”
Valeena nodded quickly in agreement. “We need to find out more about Thanos.”
“And the Queen!” Elden snapped, anger suddenly burning on his handsome face. Valeena was startled by his sudden outburst. She could tell them all they needed to know about the Queen since she lived with her for several years. Valeena sighed, deciding not to pick this battle.
“What do we do now?” She asked instead, scratching at her arm where a fat fly had landed. She hoped they did not try to cross the desert on foot. Elden glanced at the yellow sun melting into the horizon and shrugged.
It was still late at night, Valeena knew, but she had awoken from another dream of the dragon. This dream continued on, passed Valeena falling, and into the castle. Valeena was certain her mind had used what her Aunt had said earlier in the day and created false memories. She still did not know who the boy was as she was never able to see his face, and since he was left behind near the shore, her Aunt probably did not know him either. Valeena wondered why she was saved and not him.
Valeena sat up, running a hand through her soft, ebony hair, peering out the lonely window on the far wall. The team had decided to wait until morning as they were stuck anyways and trudged back through the streets to Aunt Zuri’s shop. The woman had been very reluctant to let them stay, even though she felt guilty about leaving Valeena behind at the castle. She feared the Queen would find her and kill her on the spot. It took a lot on convincing to win her over.
Aunt Zuri’s olive eyes never left Elden for too long, she seemed wary of him. Her Aunt knew something was different about Elden, even if she could not place it. Valeena had asked her Aunt, but she refused to talk, pretending as though she had no idea what Valeena was talking about. Aunt Zuri smiled feebly as she brushed passed her, handing out stale bread and watery juice. Aira sniffed her nose at the weak food, but Rowan stuffed his mouth, smiling.
Aunt Zuri lived above her shop, offering them the guest room and the single green, scarf laced couch. Valeena and Aira took the room, leaving the guys to fight over the couch. Valeena turned to Aira, who had taken the bed, forcing Valeena to sleep on the cold, tile floor. She was sound asleep or pretending, either way, her body was still. Valeena stood silently, tip-toeing out of the room and out into the hall, listening to Rowan as he snored loudly.
Valeena made her way to the kitchen, reaching for a glass to fill with water. She did not see Elden, but it was after dark, and he always seemed to disappear at night. Valeena smirked at the idea of him being afraid of the dark like the Queen. The water was warm and tasted odd, but she drank it anyway, staring out at the moon through the thick leaves on the tree.
The small apartment felt stuffy, suffocating, and Valeena began to long for fresh air. She set her cup down, quietly heading to the stairs and down into the shop. She was surprised to see the front door was unlocked as her Aunt had checked it four times that night to make sure it was locked. But then Valeena remembered Elden was other there, somewhere.
The night air was refreshing, cool and a crisp, it smelled of leaves, a sweet smell that Valeena took in with large gulps of air. The streets were silent as she traveled, wishing the library was open as she headed towards it. Valeena stopped, realizing that she did not recall where it was, or where she was for that matter. The roads all looked the same, she thought, turning and heading back towards her Aunt’s small shop.
A gust of wind brought with it the salty tang of the sea, causing a feeling of home-sickness to burn in her heart. Valeena stopped once more, as confusion set in. Why would she be able to smell the sea? The city was nowhere near the ocean, and the rivers that ran by here were fresh water. Valeena shook her head, deciding she was imagining things, that was all there was to it.
She continued on her walk passing the shop and turning in the direction of the park. A scream pierced through the air, as three people ran by, one of them holding their arm tightly to their chest.
The night demon! Valeena though in a panic before remembering that the Nova Continent did not have a night demon. Valeena decided not to stick around and find out what had terrified the people. Instead, she turned on her heels to race back to the shop as more screaming could be heard from the direction of the park.
“Help me, someone!” A woman screamed, her voice reverberating in the night. Valeena debated going to help the poor soul or escaping to freedom. But if that had been her in need of aid, she hoped someone would come to her rescue as well. Valeena raced as fast as her legs would allow to the park, where a young, blonde haired woman was cowering by a bench, pressing herself against it, her leg bleeding.
“What happened?” Valeena asked as she reached, but the woman was in hysterics, and merely pointed out into the night, crying uncontrollably, her body shaking despite the warm air. Valeena tried to help the woman up, but she let out another blood-curdling scream and rolled under the bench.
Valeena rose slowly, turning to face in the direction the screaming woman was pointing. In the light of the pale moon, Valeena saw a creature, standing tall on goat like hind legs, but its body was that of a human with a short, stout dog like face. The hands ended in razor sharp claws, the eyes angry red slits on the ugly, dark, brown face.
The Night Demon had followed her! Her mind screamed at her, trying to make sense of things as she stood to face the beast, an angry rain swirling around them. The beast huffed, its breath coming out in hot puffs of air. It faced Valeena, letting out a horrible howl that verged on a human scream, and swung at her, its sharp claws coming dangerously close to her face.
Valeena dodged the blow, stumbling backward and falling on her rear. Her hands found a fallen branch and she jumped to her feet, swinging it as she turned, cracking the beast in the back of the head. The blow caused the beast to stumble briefly before regaining its balance, rearing on her once more.
With cat-like precision, Valeena was able to jump out of the way, hitting the beast in the face, this time, splitting its cheek open, dark black blood bubbled out of the wound before flowing freely down his face.
The beast howled, blinded by fury began to swing its muscular arms madly, ripping chunks of bark off of trees and cutting gouges in the metal benches. It turned and knocked fat pieces of stone out of the fountain, water leaking out and into the grass. All the while doing a dangerous dance with Valeena, who ducked, rolled, jumped and swung in an effort to save her life and thwart the beast.
The rain was now a heavy downpour, washing the blood off the creature’s cheek, making the grass slippery. Valeena felt her boots slip several times as she circled the park, fear having released her allowing her to think clearly. Lightning pulsed brilliantly behind the beast, splitting the sky in a bright burst of energy. Valeena could feel the deafening thunder in her soul as it rolled across the sky.
Valeena tightened her grip on the damp branch and swung hard, hitting the beast in the chest several times, but its abs were armor thick. As she was preparing another attack, the beast caught her off guard, smacking her hard into a tree, the wind rushing out of her lungs. She felt light headed and fought to stay conscious as black checkers flickered in her vision.
Valeena ducked in time to avoid another blow, coughing up blood, and fearing the damage she could not see. The beast launched another attack, slipping on the bloody grass, its cloven hooves losing its balance for a moment.
Valeena used that brief moment of imbalance to swing her weapon forcefully, hitting the beast in the forehead, splitting the skin open just under a gray scar, black blood flowing into the beast eyes. The beast stumbled, clawing at its eyes, fighting to see, tripping over its own feet in the process and crashing to the ground.
Valeena climbed onto the bench and jumped into the air, her broken branch pointed at the exposed soft spot under the beast neck, her eyes meeting its.
“What the-” Valeena shifted her weight suddenly, and fell hard onto his armor abs, rolling off the beast chest and landing in the wet, bloody grass next to it. There was something familiar in those red eyes, a spark of humanity that had caught her off guard.
“Elden?” Valeena choked out, her body aching from the fall. The beast fought to stand, stumbling several times in the process, nearly stepping on her.
The beast looked down at Valeena with a look of sorrow on its scarred face. Then with a soft howl, it fled, blood splattering to the ground.