Chapter 21 Light
Anger blazed in Valeena’s blue eyes as she burst through the tiny apartment door, the knob denting the wall.
“What in the HELL is he?” She screamed, waking Rowan and Aira who had somehow slept through the violent storm. She stood in the tiny door frame, black blood and rain water dripping onto the carpet mixing with her own red blood. The pair looked at her in shock, rushing to her aid.
“What happened to you?” Rowan asked as he jumped to his feet and reached out his hand to her but drew it back, unsure how or if he could help. He removed his tin, but remained still, not sure where the source of blood was coming from. Valeena swatted at him, sending the tin into the wall.
“Elden! Tell me now!” She practically screamed, her body burning with rage, her hands in tight first. Aunt Zuri tried to place a faded towel around her shoulders but Valeena shook it off, pushing Aira aside and stepping into the center of the room. She climbed up onto the wobbly, square, coffee table, kicking over a coffee mug and folding her arms over her chest.
“Someone had better start talking.” Valeena said, her eyes burning into Aira’s then Rowan’s. Rowan opened his mouth to speak his eyes searching Aira for the help she would not offer.
Rowan signed in audible defeat, rubbing at the back of his head as he said, “I believe he’s an Ankou.” When Valeena narrowed her eyes he hastily added, “I mean it fits. The moodiness, the ring, the fact he disappears at night and someone ends up… dead. I think the flask contains blood.”
Valeena felt as if the room were spinning and stepped feebly off the coffee table and collapsed into a nearby chair. He had killed those people after all. The image of the body floating in the river suddenly appeared in her mind and she gagged. Was he going to kill that woman at the park? Rowan was fidgeting with his hands, waiting for Valeena to allow him to continue.
“Go on.” She said in a whisper, suddenly feeling numb as the pain and throbbing slipped away.
“I-I don’t know what triggers the change, as it doesn’t happen every night. That ring he wears keeps the curse in check somehow so he can transform back into a human. Without it, he’d stay an Ankou forever. “Rowan suddenly looked scared, reaching out to Valeena,
“Did… did he bite you?”
Valeena thought hard before shaking her head. Rowan relaxed. “Good. If he did, then you would be cursed as well.”
Aira backed up, her body hitting a kitchen chair as she moved to get away from Valeena, just in case. Valeena felt hot tears streaming down her cheeks, her throat felt as though there was a lump in it. She was struggling to breathe at a normal, taking in big gulps that seemed to choke her.
“Why did you just not tell me?” She pleaded in a hoarse whisper. But Aira continued staring passed her and out the window, Rowan looking at his feet.
“I told you, I cannot.” Aira spoke softly, “My people are enemies with the … “Her voice trailed off and she looked away, knowing Valeena did not care about the feud. "My mother-" But she turned her back to Valeena, unable to finish her sentence.
“And I was just having fun. Plus, I kind of promised him I would not say anything. I never thought that this would happen.” Rowan pressed his lips into a thin line and looked away as Valeena shot him a dirty look. She had been traveling with a dangerous beast and no one had warned her.
“Get cleaned up and rest. There is nothing more you can do.” Aunt Zuri said softly, once again offering the towel. Valeena nodded half heartily and wiped her forehead off staining the towel black.
"So, he's not a Reap?" Valeena asked, annoyed at Rowan's smile.
"No, not even close."
"But you said back in the labyrinth, that it was his people that made the tunnel." Valeena recalled, straining to find some connection between Rowan and Elden.
Rowan nodded, "They did. You see, the Ankou will enter some type of berserk if provoked enough. Their claws are sharp and cut through the rocks and dirt with ease." Valeena had stopped listening. Her body ached from the battle and she hoped that the woman had escaped.
"Get some rest," Aunt Zuri pressed, making sure her front door was locked for the night.
Valeena awoke in a sweat from a dream where several black demons were fighting for a piece of her soul. The morning sun was already lighting the room as she stretched, knowing Elden was not here. She did not know if or when he would return and at the moment, she did not care. Her head was pounding and her body was sore. She had several bruises on her arms and ribs, but thankfully no broken bones. The source of the blood she had tasted the night before was still a mystery, but she was thankful she was alive.
'Maybe life at the castle wasn’t that bad after all?' Valeena laughed as that though swirled back in her mind, shaking her head to set it free as she rose, making her way to the kitchen where Rowan, and Aira were talking softly.
“Oh, um, morning…” Rowan said hastily, giving Valeena the impression they had just been discussing her. “So, um, we think that as much as we don’t want to, we need to leave.” Valeena nodded absently. She was half listening to his words as her mind kept circling back to Elden.
Aunt Zuri emerged from the hall wearing the most terrible looking dress that Valeena had ever seen causing her to think the Queen had just waddled in. The dress was supposed to make it appear as if you were looking out at a beautiful meadow, but the fabric was stretched out horribly and stained that it looked more like a warped image that had been stuck in the printer.
“Aren’t you afraid of being shot?” Aunt Zuri asked Rowan as she added water to a stained orange and pink tea kettle. Rowan laughed a forced laugh.
“No. I am tough, I will be fine.”
“You know Kingyosou hates Reaps.” She continued, placing the kettle on the stove top and lighting a burner, hating the smell of natural gas that burst into the air. “They blame Reaps for making them live near the desert.”
“I’ll be fine.” Rowan insured her, rolling up the aged map that had been spread out on the table. “I already bought train tickets last night anyways before heading to bed. Let’s just go see if the train has any coal yet.”
Rowan and Valeena thanked Aunt Zuri, Valeena once more promising that she would not tell the Queen where she was, and stepped out into the morning light. Aira had shoved ahead, never speaking a word of gratitude to the woman.
Valeena followed slowly behind them as they walked the empty streets, heading towards the large station near the outskirts of town. Several people where cleaning up the park as they walked by, gathering the splinters of the bent into a pile. Valeena wondered if the woman had made it home safely. Aira glanced at Valeena as they passed by but said nothing. It was almost as if she were afraid to ask.
The station was overflowing with people, the train puffing, thick, black smoke into the air, a clear indication that the coal had finally arrived. Fights were breaking out among the people as they pushed their way to the ticket window, trying to get a ticket.
“My daughter was attacked last night!” A man shouted reaching for the tickets in Rowan's hands as another man punched him in the face.
“I need to see my sick sister!” A woman yelled, smacking an old man’s hand roughly out of the way as she too tried to rip the tickets out of Rowan’s hands. The conductor barely had time to take the tickets from Rowan as people without tickets fought to board the train. Rowan fled on board, followed by Aira and Valeena, as more people appeared, each shouting out reasons for wanting the tickets. A riot began to form as they crowded the sleek train, some pushing on it in a feeble attempt to knock it over.
Soon the police arrived, shouting at the people to get back, to move away from the train and to not stand on the tracks. The whistle blew as the last of the lucky passengers boarded but the doors unable to shut as people wedged their way in. The train remained still due to a crowd of people that was still on the tracks, some throwing objects at the train, hurling insults and cursing as they did so. A couple of people were trying to climb onto the roof of the train, slipping and sliding on the polished metal.
The wind picked up forcefully, making it difficult for the people to remain standing. Aira was leaning as close to the window as she could, her crystal glowing brightly. Valeena felt too weak to join in the assualt, and knew that Rowan would not. He was dancing on the balls his feet, anxious to start a fire but did not want to hurt anyone. Valeena began to wish Elden was here, his crystal was able to confuse people and she was sure he could have gotten the people to move. She sighed, and closed her tired eyes, pushing him out of her thoughts.
It was well over an hour later before the police had the riot under control and the train was finally able to depart, squealing on the tracks as it snaked its way through the desert. The train was heading to a station just outside of Kingyosou, a city Valeena had always wanted to visit, but the Queen had never allowed it.
Queen Maylee always brought Princess Aurory to the Moon Festival that took place in Kingyosou every year but had never allowed Valeena to attend stating it was not for simpletons. “You would actually think you were eating the moon and cry, ruining the whole event!” She had laughed, wiping her chocolate stained hands on her dress, making it appear she had poop on her.
Princess Aurory had looked confused. “We can’t eat the moon?” She asked, tears welling up in her olive eyes. Queen Maylee let out a roar of a laugh, smacking the table several times with her bloated hand.
“That impression of Valeena was perfect!” The hag cackled, Princess Aurory giggling nervously.
“Yes, impression. It… it was quite good.” The Princess spoke quickly as the Queen recovered from her laughing.
Valeena pushed the memory out of her head as the train wove through the desert. Yellow sand with the various burst of cacti was all that was visible out the window. ‘It’s nice to take a train somewhere and not have to walk for a change.’ She thought, leaning back in the red leather seat.
The train smelled terrible, however, like feet and sweat. It was overcrowded and the people were too close together. The seats were a crushed purple velvet color, but the padding had worn away over the years causing the seat to be uncomfortable. Valeena kept her eyes on the sandy dunes and tried her best to enjoy the ride.
It was several hours later when the train finally pulled into the lovely pink and brown station at Kingyosou, which was just as full of people trying to get on as it was back in St. Dalmasca. Valeena had to elbow her way through the crowd as they fought each other; one fighting to get on, the other pushing to get off.
As a precaution, Rowan had a black bandana tied around his head, hiding the chiseled off horns. He kept his head low and hoped that no one recognized him for what he was.
Kingyosou was a beautiful city with lovely homes that had curling orange roofs. Vibrant, pink and white cherry trees were everywhere, the breeze filling the air with their lovely, floral scent.
Valeena instantly feel in love with it. She saw a woman in bright kimono of pastel colors walking down the cobblestone streets, gossiping to each other behind elaborately painted fans. One woman in a soft peach kimono stopped, tapping her forehead and whispering to her friend smiling.
Valeena suddenly felt uncomfortable at the attention and put a hand on her crystal wishing she had a way of hiding it. The first woman smiled and shook her head, tapping her forehead and pointing down the street with her fan.
“I think they want us to go that way,” Rowan said, pointing in the same direction as the woman. She nodded softly, speaking in her native language and tapping her forehead again. “Maybe someone with a crystal is that way.”
“It would not hurt to look.” Aira said bowing at the woman who smiled and returned to gossiping with her friend, their backs now to them. Valeena had never witnessed Aira showing respect to anyone before and stared at the elf in disbelief.
Aira sneered at her and walked smoothly away, not giving Valeena the opportunity to question her.
Valeena felt excitement growing in her heart as they walked down the quiet afternoon streets, passing wooden carts overflowing with different types of food and various trinkets. She was not sure where they were heading as she was unable to stop and ask due to the language barrier.
At the end of the street was a burnt orange fence with a crowd of people blocking their way through. “Let’s just go around.” Rowan was saying but one woman gasped and tapped her forehead smiling as she pointed with her fan to the front of the crowd.
“Wait.” Valeena said as she gently pushed through the people, trying to make her way to the front. The crowd ended at a make shift stage made out of empty barrels and crates with a white canvas sheet propped up behind a dancing girl.
The girl was wearing a lovely, daffodil yellow and orange kimono, twirling her oversized fans in circles. Her back was to Valeena at the moment as she sunk to her knees, tapping the fans lightly in the air, sparkles of light twinkling off the glass beads on the ends of the folds.
The girl bowed, climbing to her feet and turned to face her adoring crowd, a spiral yellow crystal glowing softly against the tan skin of her forehead.