Memories of Gaia: The Edge of Despair

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Chapter 3 The escape

Valeena watched the creamy, yellow sun sadly from her balcony as it began melting away on the horizon. The fading light was casting the sky in an array of brilliant shades of orange, yellow and pinks.

She had reluctantly stayed in her room all day, pouting, just as the Queen had ordered. Not that she had had much of a choice in the matter. Two guards were positioned outside her bedroom door, crossing their swords into an X formation if she even tipped toed close to the door.

Valeena was used to being locked in her room as it happened at least once a week. But tonight, she felt like a dam that had cracked. Valeena knew it was because of the forbidden words that she had overheard during the meeting.

“Why am I always locked in here?” Valeena asked out loud to herself. She knew the answer, yet allowed the anger she felt to flow freely through her veins.

“I am tired of being her prisoner!” Valeena stomped her foot like a small, bratty child, a foolish action, but tonight, she did not care. Valeena continued her tantrum as she stomped back into her room, kicking a chair out of her way. She grunted as she injured her bare toe in the process. She lashed out at the chair once more, tipping it over, snapping one of the legs off in the process.

“I hate this place!” She screamed, hurting her throat. She turned and ripped the blue, floral scarf off her mirror, revealing her reflection. She stared at her blue eyes that were burning with anger. She hated the image that stared back at her. It was a red-faced, tear-stained girl with bloodshot eyes from the endless flow of hot tears.

Prompted by a fresh wave of rage, Valeena picked up her wood jewelry box. She was preparing to smash it into the glass when something in her reflection caught her eye.

Slowly, Valeena set the tiny box down as she turned her attention back to the balcony outside. The once brilliantly painted canvas of sky was now in turmoil as fierce, storm clouds gathered. Each one was crying out buckets of cold, heartless rain as Valeena stepped out into the storm. The drops were as cold and sharp as needles, falling swiftly to the roaring green waters below. Valeena saw the last remnants of the fading sunset, now no more than a smudge of yellow light in the distance. The evening sun had lost the battle with the storm, as the gray clouds gathered.

“How?” Valeena could not help but wonder out loud, as the storm raged on, the heavy rain splashing down on her head and feet.

The horses whinnied in protest, pulling hard on their restraints. The animals were fighting against the stable hands as they tried to to get them into their stalls.

Valeena looked down towards the castle wall as the rain began to subside. She was relieved not to see the mysterious creature sitting there. Out of habit, she turned her attention to Evil Forest, listening to the melodic bells from the city chime. She knew that the people were fleeing indoors, if they had not already.

She sighed again and watched the vibrant sun finish melting into the ocean as the storm ended. A pod of lively dolphins started playing in the waves bellow, jumping in and out of the salty water. Valeena remained outside watching the dolphins until they were no more than dots on the horizon.

The evening had settled in by the time Valeena decided that she would try to rest for the night. She felt drained of energy and her body felt worn out from her childish fit earlier in the afternoon.

Valeena sighed as she reluctantly pulled her body off the cool, wet rail and turned to go back into her prison. She glanced back over her shoulder to find the wolf was once more sitting on the wall. It had its head tilted with its yellow eyes watching her. Valeena faced the wolf, planting her hands on her slim hips.

“What do you want?” Her voice was a little hoarse from yelling. She felt embarrassed by the harsh reminder of how foolish she had been earlier in the afternoon.

“Come to laugh at me as well?” She felt absurd talking to the wolf again, knowing it could not respond, but she could not help herself. It felt good to talk to someone- something - other than herself. Loneliness was really starting to get to her.

“Leave the castle at once!” The voice demanded more forcefully than before. Stunned, Valeena locked eyes with the wolf. It was impossible! Animals cannot speak!

Her mind raced as a gust of wind sent the clouds floating away like ships at sea. The moving clouds uncovered the light of the crescent moon allowing the beams to shine down. The light landed on the wolf, allowing Valeena to study the creature for the first time.

It was larger than any wolf she had ever seen in pictures, never having seen one with her own eyes before. Its fur was a rich, smoky gray with tints of white and black. It had gold hooped earrings in one ear making her wonder if he belonged to someone. The fur on top the wolf’s head was longer than the rest of the fur on its body, falling over one yellow eye. To Valeena, the creature looked more like a lost pet than a wild beast.

Valeena recovered from her momentary lapse into shock. She cleared her throat and replied, “I cannot leave. I have tried many times, but I am always drug back.”

“Then prepare to die.” And with that, the wolf leaped swiftly off the wall towards the ocean and out of sight.

Valeena jumped at the thunderous sound of her bedroom doors bursting open as they were kicked in. The Queen accompanied by six guards marched into her room.

“Who are you talking too?” Queen Maylee demanded as the six guards searched every inch of Valeena’s room. Her dress today was a soft plum color, giving her the illusion of an outraged fruit.

Valeena watched in dismay as the guards tore through her room. They peered under her bed and into her closet before heading outside onto the balcony with her. She saw them knocking her table over and ripping clothes off of the hangers in her closet. Valeena followed the guard, who had pushed his way outside with her, back into her room, glaring at them.

“Well?” Queen Maylee demanded again, placing her bloated hands on her plump hips. Her face was twisted in anger, a permanent feature on her fat face it seemed. Valeena looked at her coolly, gesturing around the room with her hand.

“I am alone, as you can clearly see.”

But the expression on the Queen’s face suggested she did not believe her. The guards lined up in two rows flanking the Queen, having finished their search of the tiny room.

“The room appears to be clear, your majesty,” They said in unison. Queen Maylee narrowed her eyes but nodded her head and said, “Dismissed, you idiots.”

Valeena watched as the guards marched out of her room, stepping over the remains of her splintered door. She returned her attention to the Queen, who was still watching Valeena with a look of pure suspicion.

“Valeena,” Queen Maylee began, walking casually across the stone floor. She stopped in front of the large vanity mirror that sat across from Valeena’s bed.

“You know you are not allowed visitors.” Queen Maylee informed her, scowling at Valeena’s lovely reflection in the mirror.

“As your guards told you,” Valeena spoke through her teeth, trying her best to stay calm as fury bubbled inside. “I am alone.” The Queen nodded her fat head again, turning to face Valeena directly.

“It was just a reminder.” She picked up Valeena’s wooden jewelry box with two fingers as though it were a dead rat. She then peered inside with a sour look on her face.

“Why do you keep such hideous jewels?” The Queen questioned, turning her nose up at the box as she set it on the table with a hollow thunk.

“You gave them to me,” Valeena spoke, her voice barely audible as her feelings hurt.

Queen Maylee scoffed, “Just because one is given garbage does not mean one must treasure it.”

“I like them,” Valeena replied sheepishly, receiving another look of disgust from the Queen.

“Well, I suppose simple pleasures for the simple minded.” The Queen replied smoothly, a thin smile crossing her bloated face.

Her words stung like a wasp sting to the heart, but Valeena said nothing. She knew that the Queen was trying to provoke her. The two stared at each other through the reflective surface of the mirror, neither one wanting to look away. Valeena could not take it anymore and cast her eyes aside. She sighed, knowing she had lost the invisible power struggle that had taken place.

Queen Maylee smiled in victory as she strolled towards the door. Princess Aurory stood leaning across the door frame, watching, with a look of pure delight on her face.

“Come.” Queen Maylee told her daughter. She carefully stepped over the remnants of the door and out into the hall.

Valeena could hear her heart pounding a steady thump in her chest as her body began to shake. She could feel the anger begin to boil inside her once more. Her crystal was burning, but she ignored it. She waited until she was sure the Queen was gone before she grabbed the nearest item to her. She held the figure of a fat, rosy-cheeked angel for a moment before she threw it as hard as she could.

The angel sailed into her closet and with a hollow thump where it shattered into pieces. The broken face landed just outside the closet doors, still smiling its rosy cheek smile. Valeena was reaching for another object, this time it was a book on manners the Queen had insisted she read, when she paused. She turned her head towards the closet in confusion.

There was no reason the ugly angel should have made a hollow sound as it hit the thick stone wall. Valeena walked to the closet, her feet crunching on the porcelain cutting her skin. She entered the small space of her closet and peered around.

Valeena stood on a pile of dresses the guard had taken off the hangers, one of the sleeves visible ripped. She knocked on the wall to her right but the only sound she heard was her fist hitting the stone, a good solid thump. Valeena then knocked on the wall in front of her. It still held white dust from the porcelain angel in its cracks as a hollow sound meeting her ears. She then began tapping the wall in different spots, hoping to find a switch, a lever, anything to open the wall. But after a few moments of fail attempts, Valeena gave up, her heart sinking in disappointment.

She sighed, deciding to attribute the sound to poor craftsmanship. Valeena turned as she prepared to leave the closet when something caught her eye. It was a thin piece of stone, slightly lighter in gray than the wall it was attached to. It had been carefully crafted into the crevice where the two walls met, blending almost perfectly into its surroundings. Valeena reached out and pressed it with her fingertips. Excitement was building in her chest as the button sunk into the wall. She heard a soft clicking sound and the wall swung open, groaning as it dropped dust and debris on her head.

She shook her head free of the dirt before peering into the thick darkness, but her eyes were unable to see a thing. She bit her lower lip as she debated whether or not to see what lay ahead in the darkness.

Valeena was not sure if she should risk entering the unknown. She feared that the wall may close and she would be trapped in the area behind her closet forever. She shuddered at the idea of dying without a soul to find her. Valeena strained her eyes again, but the solid black wall of shadows was unyielding.

Valeena glanced down once more at the broken angels smiling face as a fresh surge of anger rush through. She pulled on her favorite black knee high boots, keeping an eye out towards her bedroom door.

When she was sure no one was watching, Valeena stepped into the looming darkness. She shut the door behind her, welcoming death over her eternal confinement in her room.

Valeena began to regret not grabbing a source of light as she stood swallowed up in the darkness. Her beating heart was the only sound that she could hear. But it was too late to turn back now. Valeena did not even know if it was possible to re-enter her room through the hidden door. And how would she find the switch here in the darkness anyway?

The air was stale, musty, indicating it had not been exposed to fresh air in some time. The lack of oxygen caused Valeena to feel light headed as she remained still, paralyzed by fear.

Valeena finally worked up the courage to move as she took a few shaky steps forward. She ran her hands along the roughly cut stone walls for support as she moved in the shadows. Her heeled boot step down on something sticking out of the ground with a barely audible click. A torch sputtered to life, the scent of charred wood and smoke weaving its way into the stale air. More torches sparked further down, like dead fireflies returning to life.

Valeena clapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a scream as she realized how close she had come to walking into a silvery cobweb. The red-eyed spider was as white as its web from lack of sunlight, making it appear deadlier.

As the torch light grew brighter, Valeena found herself standing on a landing. A large staircase was resting before her descending down into the mouth of darkness.

Valeena moved towards the stairs, lightly stepping on the old, decaying stone steps. She peer down, finding that the stairs branched off to become more landings. Each one was resting on a different floor of the castle, including the forbidden second floor.

Valeena felt a surge of curiosity and paused at the door that would open to the second floor. She strained her ears to hear any sound from the other side. But she could not hear any noise from behind the wall.

Valeena could see the silver latch that stuck out from the wall, knowing that it could open the secret door. She slowly reached for temptation, before deciding against it. Valeena withdrew her hand as her fingertips brushed the smooth, cold metal.

Valeena had not a single shred of evidence that the door would not open right into the Queens lap. She longingly hoped that the door would open to the forbidden library, a room that she had loved to sneak off to. She would hide as Princess Aurory was being tutored, listening to each lesson. She did her best to memorize everything, not daring to write anything down for fear they would hear the pen moving on the paper.

Princess Aurory took the lessons for granted and spent her time acting out. She never realized just how lucky she was. Valeena would stay until Princess Aurory acted out. She would then creep carefully out of the library and back to her room. Valeena knew that Princess Aurory’s tantrums would become unbearable. The tutor would eventually have to summon the Queen to end the chaos.

Valeena held her breath as she pressed her ear again onto the cold, dusty stone. Her heart sank as she could hear nothing but silence.

Disappointed, Valeena continued down the stairs. She did her best to ignore the tiny squeaks from the rodents scurrying in the shadows. Not too long later Valeena stepped off the final step and into a tiny six foot by six-foot room.

To her left sat a solid wooden door that was attached to the wall with thick, iron hinges. The door was locked with a piece of wood laying vertical across the frame. Valeena knew without a shred of doubt that the door opened to the main level of the castle.

She looked to her right, seeing a wide opening with another set of stairs resting within, leading into the shadows. Valeena twisted her face in thought before deciding that the stairs were the lesser of the two evils. Her legs were still burning as Valeena stepped into the opening and began once more, to make her way down.

Valeena counted twenty stairs before she felt the crunch of dirt under the soles of her boots. She stepped onto the rocky surface of a stone passage, but the area was bathed in darkness. There was not a single torch to light the way. The air itself smelled wonderful, like minerals and wet rock.

Valeena moved slowly among the shadows, holding one arm outstretched in front of her. She moved her fingertips of her other hand over the smooth stone, feeling tiny particles of dirt attach to her skin. She could not help but wonder where the passage ended. Valeena hoped that it would lead her towards freedom and not out to the waiting forces of the soldiers.

Through the haze of the darkness, Valeena could make out feathery blue, green, and pink lights. The haze prompted a tiny amount of fear to creep up her spine as she moved forward. There were some deadly creatures that lived in Evil Forest, and Valeena hoped that they had moved into the passage as well. She slowed her pace, preparing to flee at the first sign of trouble. Yet, as she neared the glowing lights, she discovered that they were bio-luminescent mushrooms that were growing on the floor of the passage. The glimmering mushrooms provided enough hazy light for Valeena to see dimly in front of her. She stepped over a wide board and into a new, more rectangular section of the passage. This section looked more like an old fashion mine shaft. It even had tall wooden planks supporting a man-made ceiling.

Valeena wondered why the passage itself had been constructed. And more importantly, why it led to and from the heavily fortified castle. The Queen obviously did not know about the existence of the passage. If she had, it would have been sealed shut with threats of death if it were ever mentioned again.

Valeena continued her journey into the passage, making out a soft blue glow that was shimmering ahead. Valeena felt her excitement grew in her heart. She hoped that she had finally reached her freedom. With a surge of energy, she rushed forward towards the pulsing, blue light.

Valeena was in awe as she stepped into the radiant light of an underwater tunnel. The tunnel itself ran beside the rocky layers of the submerged mountain range that traveled along the castle shores. The tunnel was made of a clear tube with steel beams holding the thick panels in place. Valeena watched the silhouettes of brightly colored fish and other sea mammals as they swam overhead in the rippling lights. A whale swam overhead, its massive body floating over the tunnel, casting her in shadows.

Valeena felt the familiar pain of longing as she placed a hand on the cold, side of the tube. Valeena felt the familiar sense of longing to touch the beautiful waters as the whale continued to swim out of sight. Her soul ached to be walking through the ocean without actually feeling the salty, waves as they danced to the shore.

Valeena had watched jealously as Princess Aurory attempt to learn how to swim a few years ago. She appeared to be a circular, red beach ball, crying that the water was too cold. A wave had capsized her, and Princess Aurory’s legs kicked wildly in the air, like a duck with its head in the water.

One of the guards could not hold in the joy he felt and had laughed loudly, pointing at her ridiculous struggle. The swim instructor had dared to let a smile slip but nothing more.

Valeena shook her head free of the memories, focusing on a starfish that had suctioned its pink body to the tube. It was yet another harsh reminder that she could see the ocean, but not be a part of it. Valeena could see coral and other sea plants growing out of the white sand like a beautiful undersea garden. She forced herself to move on, doing her best not to cry.

Valeena was not sure how long it had been or how far she had traveled. The beautiful underwater tunnel had ended some time ago as it became a smaller earth-scented passage. The dirt passage was completely bathed in darkness forcing her to keep her hands out in front of her. Valeena cursed herself once more for not grabbing a torch when she had the opportunity.

The passage ended abruptly, Valeena’s hands landing on a firm, solid, rocky surface. She ran her fingers on the rock, tapping her hand on the rough stone. She felt the cool, polished feeling of a doorknob and turned it, pressing her weight against the door as it stuck. She slammed her shoulder into the stone, feeling it finally move with an audible swoosh!

Valeena walked out of the passage and took several deep breaths. She enjoyed the sweet scent of wet dirt and bitter minerals from the rocks that hung in the air. Tall, dark trees, with fat leaves, formed a canopy above, allowing small beams of the moon’s light to sparkle through. The trees grew among thick, clumps of bushes and stocks of dead looking flowers, with sharp thorns. The door Valeena had stepped out of was attached to a boulder with a statue of a headless bird. The head itself was laying half buried in the dirt near the base, moss covering its beak.

“Evil Forest,” Valeena whispered, as orbs of pale, blue light darted this way and that, disappearing as quickly as they appeared. Valeena knew they were more than lights. They were wisps, spirits of the dead, forever trapped in the confines of forest walls. A thin layer of gray and green mist swirled just above the ground, swallowing Valeena’s feet inside it. There was not a real path to follow, as everyone was afraid to even look at the forest, making it difficult to travel through the thick foliage. Valeena had heard rumors that many poisonous plants grew in the forest, but she had no idea how to identify them. And even if she did know, it was far too dark to see them.

Dead leaves cracked under her boots as she made her way through the forest, keeping an eye out for the Night Demon. She had always wanted to see the legendary beast, but not up close! A creature rustled the leaves of a large, dead bush to her left, causing Valeena to pick up her pace. She did not want to see what was hiding in there as she was not about to be on the dinner menu tonight.

When she was positive she was safe, Valeena stopped in her tracks, realizing that she had no idea which way she was traveling. Valeena strained to listen for any sounds of movement as she gathered her thoughts. She looked up, feeling cool, refreshing drops of rain hit her warm skin as they slid off the canopy of leaves above.

Valeena bit her lip again out of habit, surveying her surroundings, as fear held her heart. A low growl from the shadows of the overgrown bushes inches from her feet was a sharp reminder of where she was standing. Valeena panicked, picking a direction at random, one she hoped was safe and pressed on.

After an unknown amount of time, the soft roar of the majestic ocean waves met her ears. Valeena made her way towards the steady thunder of water, avoiding the Wisps that danced and swirled in the soft breeze.

A lanky, four-legged animal darted across her path, nearly ramming into her as it screeched in terror. Without warning, an even larger cat-like beast leaped out of the foliage, digging its sharp teeth into the neck of the horned animal. Valeena covered her mouth to hide the scream that threatened to escape. She pushed her body to move as tears burned hot in her blue eyes. A white winged owl struck the side of Valeena’s head as she ran, causing her to spin around in fear, waving her arms madly.

A dead root caught the toe of her boot and she fell to her knees, jerking her head this way and that as she listened for the sound of the ocean waves. Valeena waited until her heart returned to a normal pace, the drumming in her ears ceasing as she heard the waves once more. Valeena pulled herself up onto her feet determined to find the ocean.

Finally, the trees thinned out, as the forest ended and Valeena stepped out into a vacant, dark field. She breathed deeply the cold, refreshing salty night air, feeling thankful to be out of the forest. She peered around the area, her heart sinking in dismay as her eyes caught the looming silhouette of the Star Kingdom.

“No!” Valeena cried out softly as tears once more filled her blue eyes. Disappointment fell on her like a blanket as she realized she had walked in a circle. She remained still, frozen in place by the failure of her brilliant escape plan.

“Could you not stare at me?” A male voice said in annoyance, interrupting her thoughts of self-pity. Valeena panicked and swung back behind a tree, bark crumbling off in her hands. Fear kept telling her it was a guard that had come to take her back to the castle.

She peered out carefully from around the dry, brittle bark, catching sight of a man who she had not noticed before. He was standing with his feet just out of the reach of the angry waves, his back to her. He was looking at the lovely star-studded sky, shaking his head.

Valeena stepped out from around the tree, and followed his gaze skyward. She saw only the moon, the red dot of a dead planet named Firrian, and millions of stars. Valeena thought that it was odd for someone to be out of the Kingdom’s walls star gazing and not hiding in their beds. Valeena glanced towards the Kingdom, relieved to see that there was no sign of movement. They had not discovered she was gone yet.

The Queen usually sent guards to do a random night check on Valeena, to make sure she was still there. Some of them would leave a snack for her as they knew she rarely received treats. And given the events that had occurred before her escape, the Queen should be ordering them to check on her soon. That is, if they hand not done so already.

Heavy beads of cool rain fell from the gray clouds above as Valeena felt the familiar feelings of worry and panic.

“Why?” The man asked his voice dripping with irritation. A cotton-like, cloud floated on the wind, blocking out the view of the Red Planet.

“What?” Valeena asked startled, turning her attention to the man, who still had his back to her. In response to her question, he pointed a single finger skyward, saying nothing.

Valeena did not understand what he was pointing at, as the rain slowed to a cool, calming mist. The man groaned as he mumbled something incoherent, turning his head towards her. There, on his forehead, Valeena was able to make out the shape of a glowing, gray, crescent moon crystal.

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