Chapter 6 A cave of ice
Valeena was not sure how long she had been asleep when she finally opened her blue eyes again. The sky above her was still a canvas of gray, feathery clouds. A light, misty rain was swirling around her as beads of water stuck to her ebony hair.
Elden was nowhere in sight, He probably abandoned her the second her eyes had closed and she slipped into sleep. Valeena sighed. She should have known that he would take the opportunity to vanish the first chance he received. She climbed to her feet, stretching her arms skyward as she looked towards the glowing mouth of the ice cave. She then turned back towards the distant town of Rose Grove.
She could turn back now, honestly, find a job in town, and live out her days hiding from the Queen. Valeena knew that was a horrible plan. She wanted to be free, to see the world and not be hiding under tables from her mother.
Valeena brushed her dress free of debris and made her way towards the mouth of the ice cave. She was determined to find the Goddess Tears on her own.
The opening was a massive, oblong hole with smooth particles of ice flaking off the dark, gray stone. The cave emitted cool puffs of an icy breeze, like the cold breath of a frozen animal. Valeena glanced back once over her shoulder, searching for any signs of Elden. She sighed before entering the icy confines of the cave.
The inside of the cave was breathtakingly beautiful. Shades of rich blues were painted among the ripples of ice that clung to the walls and ceiling. It gave the ice the appearance of blue stained glass. Hues of every color reflected off the ice. Their pores releasing a radiant glow that resembled the many facets of diamonds. The ice formed narrow, needle thin icicles, in different swirling patterns. Large, heavy looking ice stalactites hung from the cave ceiling. Each one sparkled in the thin rays of light coming from the openings above.
A frozen stream formed a slippery path through the floor of ice and stone. Valeena walked cautiously beside the bitter, still waters. Her breath was coming out in small puffs of steam as moved through the cave. The stream wove its way around a corner, the narrow cave opening up to a massive cavern with a cathedral-high ceiling.
Here, the ice was not as thick, and pale rocky walls could be seen in thin patches beneath the ice. Pictures created by beings that had perished long ago were visible through the ice. The images had been preserved in the cold walls of sleet. A gorgeous waterfall formation sat frozen in time, glittering brightly in the beams of light drifting from the openings above. But where could the tears be?
“The Goddess Tears are located at the Statue of Sorrows,” Elden answered as though he could read her thoughts. Valeena jumped, startled by his sudden appearance.
“You spiky headed jerk! Where were you?” She demanded annoyed, doing her best to hide the joy she felt at him being back. He simply crossed his arms over his chest as he surveyed the chilly environment ignoring her.
“This waterfall is as far as I always get before I have to turn back.” He ran his hand along the glossy surface, the ice as smooth as glass.
“Where did you go?” Valeena repeated more forcefully, her hands placed firmly on her slender hips. She tilted her head in a feeble attempt to make eye contact. Elden shrugged casually as if he were brushing off her words.
“Does it really matter? Look, I don’t want to be standing here in an earthquake with those sword-like icicles hanging above me. So can we find the Tears and leave, Hmm?” Elden said, his eyes looking skyward as an icicle dislodged itself from the icy ceiling and fell, shattering to bits on the stone floor.
“Are you sure it’s a statue?” Valeena asked. She was doing her best not to think about the other icicles positioned like deadly swords above her head. Elden rolled his dark eyes at her as he scanned the chilly cave. They had appeared to have reached a dead end, the semicircular part of the cavern held no signs of a second entry. Elden walked across the icy floor, his boots crunching on the frozen particles of water. He stopped once more a few feet from the waterfall, turning his head to the side, as something caught his eye.
“Look,” Elden whispered as he pointed to a dark shadow behind the arctic sheets of ice. “I’ll bet that’s an opening to another part of the cavern.”
Valeena inspected the beautiful area thoroughly before agreeing with Elden. Nowhere else in the cavern did there appear to be a way through.
“But that’s solid ice,” Valeena said as she stepped forward. She ran a single finger over the sleek, polished ice, her breath fogging the surface.
“Use your crystal to change the ice back into liquid,” Elden told her bluntly. He brushed a few drops of water off of his sleeve that had dripped down from a melting stalactite.
“I’m not the fire element,” Valeena informed him as disappointment set in.
“Really, come on, just focus. Why do you have to make things so difficult? It’s like I’m talking to a three-year-old!” Elden shouted at her, narrowing his dark eyes in disgust. Valeena felt her own temper flare and momentarily hated him. She was tired of people treating her dirt beneath their feet.
“Just relax and focus,” Elden spoke, holding up his hands in defense. Valeena felt her anger melt away as she bit her lip, doing her best to cool off. She was not sure exactly what she was supposed to do to melt the ice.
Valeena focused her blues eyes on the sheet of ice, not daring to blink. She was thinking only of swift beads of rain and the rushing of rivers. She soon felt the familiar warmth of her crystal as it began to glow, the blue reflecting off the frozen water. Valeena felt a jolt of excitement course through her veins as the small beads of water rolled off the ice.
“Not too much,” Elden warned, tapping the ice in separate locations with his knuckles. “We don’t want the cave to come crashing down.” Valeena maintained her focus on the ice, excitement still building inside her.
Elden removed his sword, cutting a sizable hole in the softened ice. As the ice chipped away, Valeena noticed that there was a secret passage hidden behind the frozen water, just as Elden had suspected.
“Ok, stop.” He instructed, tilting his sword inward so the freshly cut ice came free of the solid sheet slightly. Elden replaced his sword and pulled the ice carefully towards him. The ice dislodged with a wet, suction sound from the wall, slipping smoothly from his fingertips. The ice hit the cavern floor with a heavy thunk, cracking into several pieces. Elden began to use his dull dagger blade to widen the opening.
“Start freezing it again,” Elden demanded suddenly, as fresh drops of water fell upon him. The ice now had the consistency of a slush and was melting quickly.
Valeena gave an almost invisible nod before focusing once more on the ice, feeling powerful for the first time in her life. She had never tried to use her crystal like this before. She felt embarrassed that the thought had never even entered her mind.
An icicle that was perched cautiously on the ceiling of the cave dislodged from its surroundings and fell to the stone floor below. A large chunk of it hit Elden on his right cheek and sliced it open.
“Ow, dammit!” Elden cursed loudly as pain danced across his face. Valeena felt her concentration break as he cursed again, touching his cheek lightly with is fingertips.
A silvery bat-like creature covered in sharp spikes was woken up by Elden’s cries of pain. It shook its body free from the ice causing shards of frozen water to rain down on them.
Valeena saw it first and held her breath as she tugged at Elden’s jacket sleeve, pointing towards the creature. Elden glared at her, still not aware of the creature as it used a claw at the end of its wings to help aid it in walking along the ice.
Elden jerked his arm free of her grasp and opened his mouth to protest, glancing upwards as Valeena pointed vigorously towards the bat. Elden did a double take as a second creature shivered free from the ice, falling to the stone floor in a clump.
“Needle Ice.” He whispered, reaching for his sword as Valeena fumbled for the rod. The Needle Ice on the floor flipped its body over, spreading its wings. It then lifted itself off the stone, flying out of a hole in the cave ceiling.
One of the Needle Ice spotted the intruders with one of its several dark eyes and flew in a sharp arch towards them. Valeena swung her rod and struck its body, sending it smashing into the icy wall with a wet thunk. The creature released a horrible cry of pain, startling the other sleeping Needle Ice. The cries of the beast alerted the others to the danger, and within seconds, the air was swarming with their wet bodies. Each one was screeching in a piercing tone, snapping at the air.
Valeena stifled a cry of fear, not wanting to open her mouth in the din. She swung madly, striking several of the flying monsters, and Elden as well. She could not stand to watch as Elden sliced the head off of a Needle Ice that had tried to bite his flesh. She gagged as the bright red blood of the creature spilled out onto the ice.
Valeena turned and fled from the chaos via the opening in the ice, dropping the rod as she covered her ears. When she was positive she was safe, she stopped running, collapsing to the ice covered floor. She gasped for air, taking in large gulps as she tried to slow her heart.
Elden appeared beside her moments later as he tossed the rod onto her lap and walked swiftly passed her. He did not say a single word to her as he moved through the passage. Valeena felt the shiver of disappointment run through her. She felt ashamed of herself for fleeing the battle and knew she should have tried harder. She pulled herself to her feet, collecting the rod and proceeded to follow after Elden.
They made their way in silence. Each one cautiously trudging through the icy rock, following a barely visible path. Darkness was falling upon them as they continued their journey deeper into the chilly cave. Shafts of glittering light shone down via various openings in the ice, illuminating their path in short burst. Columns of rock and ice dotted the area as the ice thinned out, the floor turning to a solid stone.
“Another dead end,” Elden said, his voice full of rage. He kicked the wall with the toe of his boot as he cursed, missing the hollow sound that bounced off the stone. Valeena caught hold of the sound as the memory of the angel hitting the stone closet wall bubbled to the surface of her mind.
She scanned the wall thoroughly, spotting a stone several shades lighter than the wall that it was perched in. Valeena approached the wall as she heard a soft rushing sound similar to moving water emitting from behind it. She extended her hand outwards and pressed on the stone. She gasped as the wall thundered open seconds later, revealing a hidden area. Valeena glanced smugly back at Elden, who wore an expression of shock. He chuckled once to himself and gestured for her to lead the way. Valeena sensed a smile pulling at her lips as she put her hand on the side of the stone wall and entered the opening.
Brilliant shades of red and blue cascaded off the rippling ceiling that had thick, dark cracks running through it. The sun itself appeared red as it burned brightly in the far corner of the grotto. A river wove its way from the back of the grotto, tipping downwards towards a waterfall. The water fell in stunning shades of reds as it reflected the shimmering light of the sun. The river banks were covered with dark, brown rock, the area smelling of minerals and wet dirt.
An elaborate silver-veined, marble statue of a beautiful woman in a flowing gown rested at the top of the grotto. It was shining brilliantly in the red light giving the illusion that it was glowing. Her right arm was extended upwards as she held an elegant, fluted bowl rimmed in gold that was catching the light.
Valeena made her way cautiously towards the statue, walking slowly across the slippery, wet stone. Elden followed behind closely, having some difficulty staying on the rock. His heavy boots kept splashing into the water as he lost his footing.
Valeena reached the beautiful statue first, feeling overwhelmed with emotion as she looked upon it. Tears threatened to escape her lovely eyes as she shook her head, casting them aside. Two massive statues of men in armor sat against the far wall. They were nearly swallowed up in the shadows as they guarded the Goddess.
“Legend has it that the Goddess fell in love with a mortal who was later killed in a battle for the planet,” Elden informed her as he strolled up to the statue. He removed a small vial from the inside pocket of his cloak and carefully, tilted the bowl. The swirling cyan liquid within the bowl poured smoothly into the vial.
“Her tears are said to have had the power to revive the dead, but she was turned to stone, never to find her love again.” He replaced the bowl, and looked at Valeena as he declared, “I guess I didn’t need your help after all.”
But before Valeena could protest, a loud rumbling sound began emitting from somewhere within the grotto. The sound was powerful enough to shake the ground beneath their feet as they backed up in fear. The stone encasing the massive guard’s swords burst off as though a bomb had been set off. The missing stone revealed thick, sharp, deadly blades that shone in the light of the red sun. The thundering sound ceased as was replaced with a sad, hollow, cry that was resonating from the statue of the Goddess.
Valeena faced the statue to discover that it was gone. In its place was a floating, ghost-like entity, her skin a pale, shimmering red, her robes like smoke on the wind.
“Thief!” Her mournful voice cried out. The motionless guard’s eyes began to burn red, like a candle being lit, as their feet ripped away from the stone floor. The guards faced Valeena and Elden, their swords at the ready.
“Attack!” The Goddess screeched, pointing her bony finger towards the pair. Elden had his sword out, already in his defense stance.
“Get your weapon out dammit!” He yelled at Valeena, lunging for one of the guards. Sparks flared to life as the dull blade of his sword scraped against their armor. Valeena fumbled, nearly dropping the weapon as she twisted the rod to extend it.
“Um,” Valeena had no time to think as the second guard swung at her. The attack forced her to duck and roll, the blade digging deep into the rocky surface. She scrambled to her feet and spun, the rod cracking a sizable hole into the head of the guard.
“Here!” Elden shouted at her, tossing her a live grenade.
The guard was swinging madly, resembling an angry hornet. Valeena panicked and shoved the bomb into the hole on the guards head. She was flung backward from the explosion of the grenade as the stone guard’s head blow to bits. Large chunks of rubble flew in all directions as its body fell motionless to the floor.
The arm of the now shattered guard sailed through the air, hitting the still mobile guard in the back. The strike caused it to stumble forward before falling face first onto the ground. Elden dropped another grenade near the fallen guard, who now resembled a turtle on its back. He then grabbed Valeena forcefully and sent her smashing to the floor.
Valeena and Elden covered their heads with their hands as the bomb went off, blasting the guard in half. Bits of stone fell down around them like a deadly rain.
“Nooooo!” The Goddess wailed mournfully as her eyes burned with pain. “Sir Diggory said he would return to me, I waited for days, weeks, months....” The Goddess spoke in an almost inaudible, solemn tone.
“Then I received word he was lost in battle... Oh, Zephaniah...” The Goddess began to fade, like a dying candle flame.
“Find him... Find his grave... The horse in flames...” Her words sounded distant, as though she were at the far end of a tunnel. Valeena watched until she had faded from sight, leaving behind a single stone heart. Valeena picked up the heart as she felt the sting of grief filling her heart. Tears fought to escape her eyes as she held the heart to her chest before handing it to Elden as she had no place to store it.
“And you said you did not need me,” Valeena informed him, brushing a stray tear from her cheek. She climbed to her feet and followed behind Elden. A boulder that had come loose from the battle gave way under Elden’s foot and caused him to slip and fall into the raging river waters. The strong current quickly swept his body away and out of sight. Valeena panicked and jumped in after him as she allowed the water to swallow her.