Chapter 23 Walk Away
“It seems you have traveled quite far, Valeena.” The Queen almost purred, the fireworks ceasing behind her. She had bits of glitter stuck on her face from when she had tried to give the dragon mouth to mouth. Steel, thankful for the distraction, faced Valeena as she rose off the ground, Aira and Rowan standing as well.
“Not far enough, it would seem,” Valeena replied coolly, her heart quickening as a mixture of fear and anxiety wove themselves into her soul.
“You look as though you have been attacked, are the nights outside the castle truly that difficult?” Steel said smoothly, adding to the tension that was building in the confused crowd. They did not know if this was a part of the play or a new act that the Queen had added.
The Queen let out a donkey snort of a laugh and slapped her knee. “That is rich, Esmeralda!” Valeena kept her blue eyes locked on the Queen as she strolled casually across the stage, turning her large body to the crowd.
“We have far more important matters than this brat!” Queen Maylee cleared her throat after trying to blame Steel for breaking wind and faced the crowd.
“Citizens of Kingyosou, I have a wonderful announcement to make. It is my privilege to be the first to welcome you as an official member of the beautiful Star Kingdom!” Her words fell like weights in the ocean’s water as the crowd stared back, unable to understand the Queen’s foreign words. Impatience rose quickly in the Queen as she stared at the confused crowd.
“You there!” The Queen barked loudly, pointing at Akari who jumped slightly then regained her composure. “Translate!” The Queen demanded, not even bothering to ask if Akari could understand English.
The young girl gave a quick nod and made her way back onto the stage. She stood near the edge, keeping her distance from Queen Maylee. She raised her head as she spoke out softly, translating what the Queen had said. Rapid applause cut the silence like a knife through butter and Queen Maylee stood tall and proud, this was the reaction she had wanted.
She roughly shoved Akari aside, reclaiming the center of attention as the fireworks resumed their interrupted dance. Music began to play as well, and the great dragon wove its way around the side of the stage, the acrobats with streamers joining the parade.
Queen Maylee appeared startled by the festivities and quickly scanned the crowd for Valeena, who had used the sudden appearance of the dragon to flee under a table, the long white, linen cloth concealing her. Aira and Rowan were huddled tightly beside her, each hugging their knees to their chest, their feet tucked as close together as possible. Rowan was having a difficult time at it as he was much larger than them, but he was determined not to be found. The blade of Steel’s sword had left a scar on his neck once before.
Valeena could hear the barbaric cries of the Queen over the excited crowd, and knew that the next poor soul to cross her path would regret it immensely. The excitement changed and screams of terror replaced the laughs. Valeena carefully leaned forward, lifting the bottom of the cloth slightly, trying to catch a glimpse of the chaos.
Chairs were being violently overturned as vendors abandoned their carts. People were darting this way and that, screaming in a language that Valeena failed to comprehend.
“What is going on?” Aira hissed impatiently at Valeena.
“I am not sure,” Valeena said as she shook her head softly. She could not see the source of the chaos and did not dare lift the cloth any further.
A deafening howl from an animal cut through the night air; overpowering the screams from the terrified crowd and sending chills down Valeena’s spine.
A second howl erupted, sparking a memory to grow in Valeena’s heart. She lifted the cloth high and crawled out, Rowan and Aira voicing their complaints loudly as she did so. But she ignored them.
The park lay in waste as the people fled from the unknown nightmare. Chairs were overturned and broken; the great dragon puppet had been abandoned along with the streamers as the occupants fled for safety.
Valeena scanned the thinning crowd, looking towards the empty stage and back out over the scene of disaster. She found what she was searching for standing a few yards behind her, its arms slashing madly in the air; its back turned to her, but she knew the beast.
Valeena walked cautiously across the debris-ridden park in the direction of the Ankou, who was picking up a park bench and hurling it skyward, howling in anger as it did so. Valeena turned her attention to the sky, but only saw the moon, a bright glowing orb against a canvas of stars. She saw nothing else that would have angered the beast, Firrian hidden in the glow of the moon.
“Elden,” Valeena called out gently, hoping that there will not be another battle between the two of them. The Ankou looked over its shoulders at Valeena, its blood red eyes locking onto hers.
“Elden, please…” Valeena began, but a piercing screech from a bird caused her to stumble as she paused in her journey to Elden.
A massive, fiery bird appeared out of the sky, releasing maroon colored fireballs at Elden, who seemed to absorb the attacks. Valeena ducked behind a fallen chair and watched as Elden lashed out at the Pyro Rook, but was unable to hit his flying attacker.
Valeena sat tall, looking back at Aira and Rowan, who were still perched by the table, their heads poking out from underneath, looks of fear frozen on their faces.
“We have to help him!” Valeena called out, snapping her friends from their stance. Valeena turned back in the direction of the Pyro Rook as it continued its flaming, aerial attacks. Elden was angrily throwing debris at the great bird, neither one hitting its opponent with a lethal blow.
The breeze began to pick up, the gentle breeze turning into gale force winds, the bird having a difficult time staying afloat. The Pyro Rook fought against the powerful wind, trying to shoot maroon fire at Elden but missing, setting the park ablaze. But the bird was persistent and performed a nosedive towards Elden, who swung, hitting the bird violently it the head, sending it crashing into the stage.
The bird shook its massive head and flapped its wings, carrying its body fiery back into the sky, barely missing an attack from Elden as he threw a vender’s abandoned cart.
Valeena rose slowly to her feet, her crystal glowing as she watched the battle. Rain fell swiftly from the night sky in large, fat drops, dousing most of the fire, and soaking the Pyro Rook’s brilliant purple and gold feathers.
The Pyro Rook opened its beak wide, releasing a horrifying cry in the process, forcing Valeena, Aira, and Rowan to plug their ears in an attempt to block the noise. The bird snapped at the Ankou’s head aiming for his eyes. Elden grabbed the bird by its throat, squeezing tightly cutting off its air. Pyro Rook struggled against its captor, fear, and hate burning in its golden eyes. A well-timed kick of its razor sharp talons sent blood bursting out of the Ankou’s cheek, causing him to release his grip on the giant bird.
A large, blindingly white, glowing orb, like a white hot sun, appeared, and the Pyro Rook fled into it, flashing out of sight. The Ankou stumbled across the park, throwing and smashing things in the process as it howled in anger. Blood fell from his cheek, soaking the sand. Valeena watched Elden, forcing her feet to move across the park in the direction of the angry beast.
“Elden!” Valeena called out loudly, her voice cracking from fear, her feet feeling as though they were two lead weights attached to her body.
Elden faced her, bending over as it howled, but Valeena did not show any fear, even though it gripped her heart like a vise. The wind ceased, but the rain continued in full force, proving that Valeena did not have as strong of a hold on her fear as she wanted.
“Elden, stop it!” She shouted at him, watching as the scarlet eyes on the Ankou narrowed in clear defiance, a snarl growing in the beast throat. Valeena took a shaky step forward, locking eyes with Elden.
Akari appeared from around the side of the stage, her eyes widening in fear as she spotted the Ankou, a hand flying to her mouth in a feeble attempt to suppress a scream. A ring of orange fire danced to life around Elden, cutting off any means of escape, encasing him in a fiery cage. Valeena knew Rowan was the one commanding the fire and felt a pang of jealousy at the control he had over his crystal.
“Elden, enough!” Valeena yelled as she was five feet from Elden, their eyes locking once more. “Elden, I know it is you, please!” But the Ankou slashed its mighty arm at her, howling once more.
The Ankou began pacing in the ring of fire, howling and slashing, but unable to cross. “Please, just give up! We’ve won!” Rowan had shouted, the fire burning brightly. Elden gave her a sideways glance as he passed easily through the fire; he had been humoring them the whole time. He stepped forward until he was a foot from Valeena, his hot breath coming out in harsh puffs.
Valeena refused to run, not that she could have as fear paralyzed her. She watched the Ankou as it gave a grotesques smile, revealing razor sharp yellow teeth behind its brown lips. The beast howled again, sending Valeena’s hair flying off her shoulders and billowing freely behind her.
Valeena searched those piercing scarlet eyes for any sign of her old friend, but saw only anger, and hate. She sighed as the vise on her heart gave a sharp twist as she feared Elden was gone, lost to the dark world.
“I miss you,” Valeena whispered, the rain falling in large drops, the ring of fire dying in sharp hisses of steam. Valeena could hear Rowan shouting something she could not make out as she stood before Elden, waiting. For what, she was not sure.
A brief flash of recognition crossed the Ankou’s eyes. It happened so quickly that Valeena was afraid she may have imagined it. But the beast released a final, mournful howl, turning his back to her and running off into the night.
Aira and Akari were beside her, but she took no notice of them as the rain continued, her eyes locked on the last spot she had seen Elden. Rowan placed a hand on her shoulder and helped lead her to a waiting rickshaw.
“You sure are brave, Valeena.” Rowan was saying, but Valeena was only half listening. She wished she could help Elden so he no long turned into the Ankou. “When Elden is in that form, a type of berserk takes over, and he has no control over his actions.” Rowan continued, Aira mumbling that he should be beheaded. “That’s why they used them to build those passages.”
The rickshaw stopped at the tiny house, and the four of them climbed out, heading to the room where they had been staying.
“We can travel to Caspian in the morning if you wish,” Akari said softly, fighting to keep the excitement out of her voice. She had thoroughly enjoyed the fight, even if it had ruined her final performance. “I think the King there can help us.” No one responded.
Valeena settled onto the floral futon, staring out the window where the moon stared back, shining brightly through the continuous drizzle of rain. Rowan and Aira left her alone, and settled onto futons of their own, neither one engaging in conversation.
Valeena tried to stay up, but sleep took over, her dreams weaving horrible scenes of dragons and Ankou fighting. The thick, red blood covered her from head to toe, drowning her in it. Valeena shot up in bed, drenched in sweat and in desperate need of fresh air.
Valeena rolled out off of the futon and silently made her way across the room so as not to wake her sleeping friends and tiptoed out into the hall. From there, she walked silently to the back door and out into the garden.
The night air felt wonderful and peaceful save for a few crickets chirping in the distance. A few Emperors’ Heaven birds streak the sky beautifully. The flowers moved slowly in the wind as Valeena walked slowly down the dirt path, admiring the lovely flowers.
Near the bridge, she saw the Ankou stumbling in the night, appearing injured, blood falling onto the soft grass. The beast tripped over its own cloven hooves and fell to the ground. Valeena watched it cautiously as it transformed back into Elden.
Valeena rushed towards him, leaving all caution behind and collapsed near him, afraid to touch him. He was lying with his hand in the water, his clothes dirty and torn. Valeena could see a healing cut on his cheek from when she had hit him with the branch. Another fresh wound was bleeding freely under it.
Elden looked up at her with through half slit eyes, and rolled over feebly, his back to her. He remained still, his breathing sharp and painful. ‘Go away.’ His mind pleaded, unable to say the words aloud.
“Elden, please, talk to me,” Valeena begged in a low voice, her hands folded in her lap, watching Elden who kept his back to her.
“Val, just leave me.” It was barely audible, and if the wind had been blowing, Valeena was sure she would have missed it.
“Elden,” It was all Valeena could manage to say. She was afraid of him, but she was also curious. “How long have you been this way?”
“Just go,” He replied, his voice unable to mask the pain. He slowly sat up, rubbing his hand across his forehead, the water from the river dripping down his shirt. He looked up at the moon, shaking his head.
“Does it hurt?” Valeena asked, trying to get Elden to speak to her. Elden laughed a joyless sound that made her heart ache.
Elden ran another hand through his hair and Valeena spotted the serpent ring on his finger. “Take the ring off! That will stop the curse, right?” Valeena questioned, searching for any ray of hope.
“It’s not that simple. Here.” Elden tossed the vial that contained the Goddess Tears and the bag holding the Heart of Gaia. “Find the rest without me.” He climbed to his feet feebly, stumbling slightly and grabbing the rail of the bridge for support.
“Elden, no…” Valeena breathed, staring at the items in dismay. She glanced up at Elden through eyes that threatened to release tears of sorrow at any moment. The misty rain betrayed her ruse, and a look of sadness crossed Elden’s face.
“Val, don’t.” He began, hanging his head.
Valeena peered skyward at the stars were hidden behind the fluffy gray clouds as hot tears stung her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. He was leaving for good this time; she could see him walking away in the lower region of her vision.
“Wait, please.” But her Voice broke and she could not find any words that would make him stay. He had no reason too, as Valeena now held the Elements. But not all of them, there was still four more to find, and perhaps he knew where they were.
Valeena called out once more but Elden never slowed his pace as he continued to walk away, the rain falling swiftly like the tears from her blue eyes. Valeena watched him until his shadow melted into the darkness.