Chapter 9 Red Waters
Valeena pressed on, swimming with all her might. She choked on the bitter water as she periodically glanced up at the rocky island that the castle sat on. She was trying to catch a glimpse of a soldier or a guard, but the salty waters stung her eyes and she was forced to close them.
Valeena finally pulled her aching body up on rocky shore, just under the stone bridge that connects the castle to the city. She collapsed, her body tired from the harsh swim. She chuckled to herself bitterly as she spit salty water out of her mouth. Her wish for a swim in the ocean had finally been granted. And it a was not nearly as enjoyable as she would have liked.
“We can’t linger here, they know we have escaped,” Elden called out to Valeena, reaching out a hand to help Aira out of the water. But she slapped his hand away in anger as she glared at him. Valeena felt a strong pang of jealousy. Elden had not offered a hand to help her.
“Get your filthy hands off me!” Aira said angrily, her silver eyes glaring darkly at Elden. “I am Aira Falcon! And I no longer require your assistance filthy Amar-gwad.” Elden jerked his hand back as though he had physically been shocked. He recovered quickly, replacing the look of shock with an expression of anger.
“Then go. But if you need my help in the future, my filthy hands will not be there.” Elden shouted, nodding in the direction of a powerful looking white horse with a Star soldier on its back. The horse was heading towards them from around the far city wall, kicking up dust in its wake.
Aira sneered at Elden, before facing the approaching soldier. She had her hands at her sides with her feet planted firmly in the rocky sand. The wind began as a cool, gentle breeze but quickly grew stronger. The rush if wind carried fragments of sand and other sea debris into the soldier’s direction causing the spooked horse to rear upwards roughly. The startled animal kicked its front legs in the air, knocking the soldier off its back in the process.
Aira glanced back at Elden with a smug expression painted across her lovely face as the horse retreated. The fallen soldier scrambled to his feet and followed behind the scared horse.
“Then how were you captured before?” Valeena asked the arrogant elf as the wind died down to a refreshing, gentle breeze.
“If you-” Aira started, anger dancing across her face as she pointed a slender finger in Valeena’s face.
“We can talk later. It’s not wise to stay here. We need to get to safety.” Elden interrupted the pair, stomping passed them in the sand. Valeena glared at his back but said nothing. ‘He was right,’ she thought as more soldiers were sure to appear. The Queen was not known for giving up. The victory was always hers regardless of how it was achieved.
“Do as you please but I am returning to my home. I would not be caught dead in the company of an Amar-gwad.” Aira spat, waltzing ahead of Elden in the rocky sand like a lovely, angry model. Valeena could not help but feel disappointed. She had stumbled upon another soul with a crystal on their forehead but they too were rude. She wondered if the rest of the crystal holders would even be worth finding.
Valeena peered over her shoulder finding that the castle stood as silent as it always had. Not another soldier had emerged, not a single guard was there to threaten them. It was strange for the heavily fortified castle to be so still. The Queen was clearly planning something.
Valeena released the tension she was holding and relaxed her body. She kept her right side pressed against the polished wall of the castle, admiring the beautiful waves to her left. There was a sudden thunderous noise as the ground under their feet began to shake. Several soldiers sitting on the backs of ebony horses rounded the city wall one after another. They flowed as smoothly as a river, the sand forming large dust clouds behind them.
The wind swirled sharply around Valeena, her hair whipping across her face. As the horses drew near, a bullet from a poorly aimed rifle grazed Aira’s arm, causing her to lose her concentration. The violent wind ceased at once. Blood dripped from the fresh wound, but Aira never looked at it. Instead, she reached for an arrow and shot the soldier through the neck, his body falling limply off the ebony horse and onto the rocks.
“Do I have to do everything?” Elden said harshly as though he were scolding small children, his eyes directed at Valeena. His crystal began to glow feebly, and he narrowed his dark eyes. He was clearly having difficulty accessing the power of his crystal. Elden’s face was twisted in deep determination as he was not one to admit defeat so easily.
“I’m blind!” One of the soldiers shouted, smacking his hands to his eyes as he fell off the back of his horse and rolled onto the sand. The fallen soldier began clawing madly at his eyes as though he were under a berserk spell, tearing his skin in pieces until it bled.
Valeena forced her blues eyes to look away, gagging, focusing on the ocean water instead. An idea floated into her mind and small spirals of water started to rise out of the salty, green waves as her crystal began to glow a deep blue.
The cyclone of bitter water grew thicker and taller as gray clouds formed above her in the blue canvas of sky. A powerful gust of wind blew the salty spirals in front of the ebony horses, forming a barrier of ocean water. Lightning sparked brilliantly from within the clouds as it traveled down the cyclone. The sparks generated a deadly electric charge that coursed through the water itself. Several horses to rear back, terrified of the pulsing water. A soldier was thrown forward as his horse bucked violently, sending his body through the barrier of water. He cried out as his body jerked from the electric water.
“Behind us!” Elden shouted over the din of horse hooves and screams. The wind was pulling forcefully, carrying grains of sand and beads of salty water. More soldiers on horseback came pouring from around the side of the castle, closing off any chance of escape.
“We’re trapped!” Aira shouted in frustration. The wall of water cascaded downwards as her concentration was broken. The electric water fell from the sky, drenching the soldiers in the process. The water had lost most of its charge as it fell and only shocked the soaked soldiers. A few of them twitched as the current pulsed through them, the feeling no different than a static shock. The horses were more resilient than their riders and shook it off, whinnying loudly as they abandoned the soldiers on the beach.
Valeena stood back to back with Elden, each one keeping their eyes peeled in separate directions. Aira placed her back on the smooth city wall looking from left to right with a look of anger painted on her face. There was no way to escape except for back into the deadly waves of the sea. The water was still raging from the brief storm, the salty mist strong in the air. The soldiers approached by foot on either side by, their faces turned up in sneers as they trained their rifles on them.
“We have you now!” One soldier called out, stopping a few feet from them, his rifle positioned on them.
Elden’s crystal began to glow feebly on his forehead but the guard only scratched at his face and nothing more. Elden released a determined grunt as he squinted his black eyes. But after several seconds he huffed, his crystal dying like the last ember in a campfire.
The ocean water began to rise and ebb as a massive, white whirlpool started forming not far from the sandy coast. The sky was transforming into a dull green as rain speckled off the clouds, falling swiftly to the waters below.
Elden glanced at Valeena clearly impressed, but Valeena’s crystal was dim, indicating it was not her causing the sudden cyclone. From the center of the roaring whirl of water, a dark emerald colored sea serpent head appeared. A crown of webbed spikes sat on its glistening head. Angry, ebony, almond shaped eyes above a narrow snout rose upward, like a cobra being charmed from a basket.
More soldiers on horseback flowed around the side of the wall. Fear crossed their faces as they spied the giant beast. Several soldiers panicked and retreated in shrieks of terror as Leviathan hissed sharply. The beast shot water like a gun out of its massive mouth as its head bobbed above the surface. The rest of its tremendous body was concealed in the roaring ocean waves.
Valeena watched nervously as one of the attacks from Leviathan landed dangerously close to her. The water hit a soldier in the chest, leaving a deep groove in the beach as his body was slammed into the polished wall.
Bullets sliced through the air like an angry wasp, flying towards the sea serpent. The forked tail of the beast began slashing around, aiming for the soldiers. Several horses were neighing in panicked, their riders either dead or gone. A few of the soldiers were even retreating by foot. Valeena thought fast and grabbed the reins of one of the soldier less horses, sliding into the saddle.
“Come on!” Valeena called out as she tried to control the terrified animal. The horse reared upwards as it avoided another attack from the massive sea serpent. Lightning flashed in brilliant webs of light above Leviathan in the darkening sky. Thunder rolled through the clouds, echoing off the stone wall. The heavy rain had turned to large, chunks of hail. The frozen water hitting Valeena’s skin in painful slaps.
Aira had already mounted a stray horse and was dashing away down the coast. The animal was leaping over dead bodies that lined the area as sand billowed out from under the animal’s feet. The once tan beach was now dotted in bright, red puddles of blood that were slowly being washed clean by Leviathan’s attacks.
Elden was having a difficult time wrangling one of the terrified animals. The horse reared up on its hind legs as it made horrible scream like sounds. It shook its head and body in an attempt to get away from him. One of the hooves hit Elden in the shoulder hard forcing him to recoil in pain, his crystal glowing a hazy gray.
“Damn it!” Elden shouted as water sprayed down on him from a water gun attack courtesy of Leviathan. He grabbed the horse’s reins tightly and forced the animal to look into his black eyes. The horse whipped its head frantically, smashing Elden in the head with its snout. The blow caused him to release the reins, allowing the animal to sprint away.
Valeena took pity on Elden and held out a hand to help him. He reluctantly reached for it, sliding onto the saddle behind Valeena with a grunt of disgust.
“Yah!” Valeena cried out, kicking the animal with her heel, causing it to tear off after Aira, who was now nearly out of sight.
Valeena looked over her shoulder as the wind whipped through her long, black hair. The storm was ebbing as Leviathan sank back into the raging waters, the whirlpool shrinking. There was not a single man left standing on the beach. Lightning pulsed in the sky once more as the clouds dissipated. Valeena spotted a dark figure standing on the roof of the castle, a staff glowing hazily in the shadows.
“The Summoner was near!” Elden nearly shouted as they rounded the city walls and out into the open, straw colored field.
“But who?” Valeena questioned. She directed the horse to follow the path on the right, running just outside the shade of the dead trees of Evil Forest.
Aira was ahead of them, looking over her slender shoulder with a sneer on her elfin face. She was clearly displeased at the fact Valeena was still behind her. Aira stopped her horse and pulled hard on the reins so the animal would turn and face Valeena and Elden.
“Stop following me!” She shouted her face twisted in an ugly glare. Valeena remained calm as she stared at the angry girl. Her calmness obviously was irritating to the elf. “Stop following me!” She shouted again, making sure they heard her this time.
“It’s not following if we are going the same direction,” Elden replied coolly, returning Aira’s glare.
“You dare speak to me, Amar-gwad?” Aira said, her crystal glowing against her forehead as a gale of wind pulsed through the trees.
“I’m heading to Vaughnstein in search of dry clothes and supplies,” Elden informed her. He nodded in the direction of the small farming town that was still out of sight save for a small dot from its largest windmill.
Aira shook her head, clearly displeased by his statement. She pulled on the reins of her horse as she said, “After Vaughnstein I suggest we officially part ways.” And with that, her horse raced down the path, kicking bits of dirt at them in the process.
Valeena said nothing as Elden glared after the retreating elf. With a gentle tap of her heel, she too proceeded down the dirt path. She glanced over her shoulder one last time to make sure no one else was following.
The path to Vaughnstein was much lovelier than the path to Rose Grove. The long, lush grass was greener with bright yellow, orange, and pink flowers dotting the landscape. Butterflies of every color fluttered in the bright afternoon sun as birds flew overhead. And best of all, Valeena did not have to travel within the boundaries of the Evil Forest.
Valeena hoped Fenrir had made it out of the castle safely. The thought of the animal invoked a cold chill to run down her spine as the image of the guard’s dead body flashed into her mind. Fenrir was clearly dangerous if he was capable of such a brutal attack. She was foolish to have previously trusted him. She had almost seen him as her animal guardian. Now, she saw him as a threat.
The wind became a harsh gale, sending vibrant flowers and chunks of dirt sailing through the air. The wind caused Valeena to shield her eyes, knowing Aira was behind the sudden gust. As Valeena tried to protect her eyes from the attack, she noticed a wagon turned over on the side of the road. The wagon was charred to a crisp with debris littering the grass.
Valeena slowed her horse, investigating the scene further as she galloped passed. She felt a thump of sorrow begin resting in her heart. There were several burned scarves of different hues hanging out of the smashed in window. On the ground, Valeena saw various trinkets that were half buried by the ash. Valeena recognized it as a lone gypsy trailer. One of the scarves sent an image of an old woman to her mind as she remembered the hidden conversation she had overheard years ago.
Valeena felt a pang of fear as she realized that this is what happens when you cross the Queen. There was no evidence to support her theory that Queen Maylee was behind this attack. It could have been a careless accident or done by someone else. But Valeena knew better.
Valeena closed her blue eyes, blocking out the sight as she saw an arm protruding out from under one of the heavy trunks. She tapped the horse harder than she meant to, jolting backward as the beast took off in a strong gait. Valeena was thankful that Elden had not said anything about the scene.
Valeena felt a sense of relief as the small town of Vaughnstein came into the view. The large, windmill with the orange thatched blades spun lazily in the crisp, sweet-scented wind. Crops bearing fruits and vegetables of every shape and color grew on thick vines and branches. The produce was much larger than anything Valeena had ever dreamed of. She watched in awe as farmers tended to them, filling wheelbarrows with a single item. Valeena longed to pick a ripe purple and pink fruit that was growing inches from her. She smiled to herself as she wondered how sweet it would taste as a butterfly lifted off of it and floated away.
The river that was known as Kai Lykke which meant “lucky water” cut swiftly through the town. The rushing water led from the blue ocean and into Evil Forest in an S like formation. Pink, and orange flowers, taller than Valeena, grew in fat clumps along its banks as the water sparkled in the late afternoon sun.
The town itself had houses that were fat and circular. They were made out of a lovely orange material with green thatch roofs resting on top. Each home had a large, fat spiral poking out of the middle of it, making the homes look like overgrown pumpkins. A well sat almost in the center of the town with cobblestone paths leading from every door towards it. Several carts of the large fruit and vegetables were perched outside the shops. It seemed the vendors trusted the residents not to steal the food.
Even the insects were larger here, Valeena saw, as a fat bee the size of a small dog buzzed lazily through the breeze. The insect circled her one before it landed on one of the massive pink flowers. The blossom was not strong enough to support the bee’s weight and it bent downwards, spilling the insect to the ground. The bee remained stuck there, like a turtle on its back, kicking its legs in the air.
Valeena and Elden slid off the horse, tethering it to a nearby trough that was resting outside of one of the shops. The shop keep waved at Valeena with a smile, his eyes never looking at Elden. Aira had simply set the animal free, watching as it tore off down the path heading back to the Star Kingdom. She looked annoyed at her mistake but spun on her heels, disappearing behind an orange home.
The villagers wore lovely, lightweight embroidered cloaks in soft colors. The woman wore more pastel shades while the men chose white or black. They kept their long hair in thick braids, ignoring the new visitors to their beautiful town.
“We’ll meet at the inn,” Elden informed Valeena as he brushed passed her in the direction of the local armory where a blacksmith was working on a blade. Elden did not seem bothered by the sparks that jumped into the air with each blow of the blade smith’s hammer. Valeena took the opportunity to walk through the beautiful red, and pink strawberry fields. She inhaled their amazing fragrant aroma, tasting their sweetness on her tongue. Valeena gently touched one of the massive fruits, longing to taste it. She wonder just how mad the farmer would be if she bit into the fruit right now.
“What is he after?” Aira asked suspiciously as she stepped out from between one of the plants, folding her arms across her chest.
“The Elements,” Valeena answered, hoping her mouth was not drooling as she continued her internal conflict of whether or not to eat the fruit.
“What?” Aira shouted as she threw her arms up into the air. Her already large eyes seemed to get bigger as she stared at Valeena. Valeena was startled by her sudden outburst and subconsciously took a step backward abandoning the fruit.
“You cannot allow him to have them! How many does he have?” Aira demanded, stepping closer to Valeena.
“A few,” She replied, remembering how he had claimed to have some back in Rose Grove, even though she suspected that was a lie. But the elf did not need to know that.
“Oh, this is not good.” Aira began pacing in the row of soft, brown dirt, shaking her lovely, silver head.
“He said he is gathering them before Thanos does,” Valeena said, feeling ashamed as if she had done something wrong.
“Ha!” Aira laughed, shaking her head as she stopped pacing and turned her attention back to Valeena.
“You know very well what he is trying to do! And you wish to help the Amar-gwad?” Aira accused in anger, poking Valeena in the chest with her bony finger.
“Get your hands off me!” Valeena shouted as she slapped the elf’s hand away, her expression turning from shame to anger. She hated when the Queen poked her plump finger into her chest, always doing it hard enough to hurt but not bruise. She was not about to let this bitter elf do it to her as well. Aira’s face flashed in shock momentarily before regaining her usual cool demeanor.
“He cannot have the Elements. It is too dangerous!” Aira told Valeena firmly, scanning over her shoulder to see if Elden was near. But he was nowhere in sight.
“He is trying to open Nihonal,” Aira explained upon seeing Valeena’s perplexed expression. “The source of the sun,”
The vines on the strawberry plant began to shake as something moved within them. Valeena held her breath, wondering if Elden was actually here, listening to them. But a fat bumble bee waddled out from behind the leaves. It flapped its tiny wings several times before giving up. The flying insect was too lazy to fly and struggled to keep its body afloat.
Valeena turned from the bee to look back at Aira, not sure if she should take her seriously or not. It was a farfetched idea, the source of the sun, one that only a fool would peruse.
“Nihonal is a myth, a legend, it has never been proven to exist, I know.” Aira continued as if she had read Valeena’s mind. Valeena was not sure how to respond to this. Of course, she had heard the legends many times. It is believed that everything and everyone, time and space itself ended and began in Nihonal.
Valeena had heard the myth from an old sage that had come to the castle to tutor Princess Aurory. He was the third one that month since the others kept disappearing. He was on strict orders not to tell her anything that was not on the Queen’s planned agenda. And it was clear that he risked death if he strayed from it. But the pay was good, so he accepted, knowing full well that he really did not have a choice. The Queen was humoring him by making it seem as though he did.
They used the library as a classroom, where Valeena loved to sneak in. She hid among the stacks of books on the top level of the library, keeping her body as flat as possible. The library was a large, circular room with three levels. It had two long tables sitting in the center of it. The tables sat under a crystal chandelier that was in the shape of the globe. The continents and islands dangled on wires that were illuminated by tiny, twinkling lights. The lights would glow in the dark when the lights were off, giving the illusion of stars.
The sage, who was named Nemo, often noticed Valeena hiding behind the stacks of books as he taught the loud Princess. But he never once said a word to her. Sage Nemo looked in disappointment at Princess Aurory as she traced her hand on her math worksheet. She was giggling over and over saying she was drawing a turkey. He wished he could teach the young girl yearning to learn as she hid among the books. Instead, he taught the girl who did not care as she sat bored at the table.
Sage Nemo was an older man with pale white skin and round, brown eyes. He always smelled of different spices and kept his voice soft, even when the Princess was shouting. Valeena never heard him shout once as the child bounced around the room.
He sighed as he strolled to the window, pretending not to see the nine-year-old child scurrying around the tall stack of dusty books. Sage Nemo had caught sight of the crystal on Valeena’s forehead that day and began to wonder if the myths of the Crystallians were true.
“If the Crystals are real, then the Elements must be as well.” The Sage thought out loud. He paused at the library window that overlooked the Queen’s famous gardens. No one knew why they were famous as it was mainly rose bushes with giant blossoms sprouting in the afternoon sun. They were nothing special to look at and Vaughnstein had much larger plants.
“And that means Nihonal is obtainable!” He said in excitement as Valeena peeked around the stack old books at the aging Sage. He had his hand on his chin, rubbing it as he thought.
“What’s Nihonal?” Valeena asked in a whisper as curiosity got the best of her. She clapped her hands over her mouth gasping as she ducked low to the ground. She winced as her knees hit her in the face as her little eyes stared at the floor. Sage Nemo chuckled to himself and decided to humor the poor child.
“Why, I believe the library is haunted!” He smirked, glancing around in mock terror. “A disembodied voice has spoken!”
Princess Aurory, who had been drawing crude looking feathers on her hand turkey, spoke up then. “No you fool, I simply broke wind.”
The sage shook his head in disappointment. THIS was the child he was supposed to tutor? He feared his stay at the castle would not be a long one, as he watched Princess Aurory scribble a horn on the turkey’s beak. She proudly labeled it “berdzilla”, spelling bird with a backward E.
“Nihonal is a place that has existed before us and will continue to exist long after. Everything in life, from humans to animals to trees, all living things end up and begin in Nihonal. Time and space work together to keep Nihonal flowing.” Sage Nemo said, still pretending that Valeena was not listening from behind the books. He could see her round eyes peering at him in the reflection of the library window, and smiled.
“What are you talking about?” Princess Aurory asked, having finished her drawing. She was staring at it proudly as she held it up, admiring her work.
“I’m talking about how two plus two does not equal a giant turkey. Now, back to work on a fresh sheet of paper, if you will.”
“I know all about Nihonal,” Valeena said softly, smiling slightly at the faded memory. Maybe life at the castle was not all that bad.
“Good, then you are not as simple as I had feared. As of now, I can be friends with you. However, you become an Amar-gwad and I shall kill you.” Aira informed her, turning on her heels and starting to walk away, almost bumping into the bee in the process. A chiming bell resonating from a church sitting on a hill froze her in her steps as she moved around the bee. Aira watched in confusion as windows and doors slammed shut as the people rushed indoors. Even the bee waddle back into the vines, its yellow rear end disappearing around a strawberry.
“What’s going on?” Aira asked, surveying the odd behavior, her silver eyes wide.
“It is nearly sundown, we better head to the inn or we shall be locked outside,” Valeena said as she reluctantly started walking in the direction of the inn, her eyes looking back longing at the strawberry.
“Why?” Aira asked, following behind Valeena.
“The Night Demon,”
Aira snorted. “You humans and your silly fears,” But she moved closer behind Valeena, trying to hide her expression of fear with a soft chuckle.
Valeena awoke the next morning to a piercing scream and ripped her from her dreams of dragons and flames. She sat up stiffly in the hard bed. Her heart was pounding in her ear as another scream cut through the air. Aira was on her feet, perched near the round window like a wild cat, hiding in the brush.
“What is it?” Valeena asked, joining her at the window, but her view was obstructed by a narrow awning and a bee resting on the roof. Aira was out the door as swift as the wind and out of sight. Valeena followed close behind, bumping into Elden who was standing casually outside the door of the inn.
“What’s going on?” Valeena asked him, but he shrugged and remained still, his eyes on the ground in front of him. Valeena glanced back at Elden as she followed a group of people who were gathering near the river banks. Aira was there, staring intently at the water, a hand covering her mouth. Valeena pushed past an older woman, who was shouting incoherently at the sky crying. Valeena gasped and jerked backward as she saw the lifeless body of a thin man floating face down in the red stained waters.