CASeries #2: LEGEND
Chapter 12 ♕ One with the Sea
The ocean breeze brushed lightly against Valeriana’s cheeks, the faint scent of the brine waters wafting under her nose. The docks looked busy as men with swollen muscles loaded dozens of different cargos aboard the ships anchored by the port.
Amidst the noisy hollering of people, the sound of rolling waves, and the gentle cries of birds, Charles instructed the group with things about properly doing their job before going off to negotiate with the captains in charge of the ships.
Valeriana followed him curiously. “Are you sure he’ll allow us?” she asked him, watching the fourth-ranker as he climbed the wooden board angled towards the ship’s deck.
“How can you be so sure?”
“He’ll have no choice but to agree when I show this.” He flashed a ring at Valeriana’s face so suddenly that she leaned back. The golden band was encrusted with sapphires and gemstones the color of blue, including small diamonds. The biggest had a symbol etched on its surface—something Valeriana wasn’t quite able to discern.
Before she could ask, Charles spoke. “Go back to the others and say your goodbyes,” he said.
Valeriana heard a seagull’s faint squawk as she reluctantly headed back towards her group where the rest of the Circle gathered, glancing at Charles whose form disappeared from her line of sight.
She stopped before the Twelve and the other addition to their group, watching as Tamara pulled Keelan by the shoulders and gave him a noogie. Keelan, meanwhile, was uttering protests while Tamara burst into a fit of boisterous laughs.
“Let me go, Tamara! Please!”
“I want to see you try, you ol’ glutton.”
“Let’s see each other in the academy again, alright? Come back safe, all of you,” Rowe told them. “The Twelve cannot be twelve without the others after all. So make sure to finish the job quickly.”
“You don’t need to tell us that,” Corvan said. “We know that perfectly.”
“I’m just reminding you in case you forget,” the second-ranker told him.
“Rowe’s right, though,” Valeriana said. “Do come back safe.”
Corvan eyed her indifferently, remaining quiet.
Tamara, on the other hand, broke her iron hold around Keelan and bounced towards Valeriana cheerfully. She put her arms around the other girl and smiled in an overoptimistic manner.
“Aw! Is Valewiana wowwied for us?” she asked teasingly.
She playfully pushed her off. “Of course I am!” she exclaimed. “You guys were all jerks when I met you, but—”
“Ouch, Valeriana!” Keelan said. “That hurts.”
“But you’re not all that bad,” she continued, chuckling.
“Well, you’re not bad either!” Aneeka said and patted the girl on the shoulder. “You’re kinda . . . well . . . if it’s you who’ll be saying it, I think you’ll choose awesome as the word to describe it.”
“Well, compared to me, you’re all awemazing!” she said.
“Now I want a group huuuug! Let’s do it! Like the one in the movie!” Tamara shouted, screaming out the very last word. The Twelve ran forward and encaged both her and Valeriana in a tight embrace, their arms interlocking with one another to form a huge and compressed circle.
Genevieve pulled an unwilling Elfre.
“Ugh. Do I have to?”
Lord Lienhard, Rowe, and Brindon simply stood on the sides watching, feeling contented to observe from the background.
“What are you all doing over there?” Genevieve asked, temporarily breaking off.
“You go on and we’ll just—” Rowe didn’t get a chance to finish since a hand shot out and dragged him into it as well.
Brindon didn’t need to be told twice and jumped forward nonchalantly. “I’ll join,” he stated.
“How sweet!” Lienhard exclaimed.
Charles walked down the ship he climbed a moment ago and saw his comrades. “What is going on here?”
The Twelve parted reluctantly and stared at him with amused smiles and twinkling eyes. “Nothing!” they chorused.
“It’s time to board the ship,” he said before his lips curved into a smirk. “Unfortunately, the ship to Prelurésia doesn’t leave until about three hours after you do. You guys have to go ahead of us.”
“Really?” they asked.
“Yes. Now, the ship is ready to depart so I recommend you get on board if you don’t want to get left behind,” he told them. “Just be careful, those sailors are contracted pirates. But, of course, you’ve got nothing to fear.”
“You contract pirates?” Aneeka’s brows raised.
“It’s better than letting them be a nuisance.”
“Goodbye!” Keelan did not seem too keen on parting ways. He didn’t have the usual spring in his steps as he climbed on board.
Aneeka and Rowe followed shortly, Brindon and Lord Lienhard not far behind them. Valeriana stopped at the foot of the bridge and turned to look at the others.
“I wish you good luck,” she told them. “Make sure everyone comes back alive and well, alright?”
Corvan huffed, but looked pleased. “You’re underestimating us?”
“I’m not.” She shook her head. “I know very well you guys are more than capable in handling yourselves in a battle,” she said.
“Then why the words?”
“I just wanted to,” Valeriana said, rolling her eyes. “Do I even need a reason to wish you well? I’ll be going now, though. I’ll see you guys back in the academy.” She waved at them casually before taking long strides towards the ship and hopping on board along with the others.
“Weigh anchor and hoist the mizzen!” yelled a guy in a gruff voice, making Valeriana look back at the members of the Twelve they left behind.
Their eyes followed her form as she embarked upon her ride. A gentle ocean breeze blew past, bringing their clothes and hair in a rustle. As the makeshift bridge was pulled away and the ropes tying the ship down loosened, the anchor was then hauled from the waters. The crews of the ship rolled down the sails, the booming sound of the cloth ringing in their ears.
The ship started to move with the guide of the wind, slowly advancing from its place and away from the port.
“Ye thar!” said a man with a big hat. “I hope ye understand the situation.” The frown on his face was evident along with the lines creasing his forehead. “If it weren’t for yar friend, I wouldn’t have bothered to bring ya and those buffoons on board. So I don’t want ya messin’ around in me old ship. Savvy?”
The girl stared at him in wonder, confusion clear on her face. “Uh . . . I guess?”
“I don’t want ye unsure. Let me rephrase it to ye, landlubber. Are we clear?” he asked, raising a brow at the girl. His gray eyes eyed her pointedly, strands of his long, messy hair falling on his face.
“Do we have a problem here?” Rowe asked, hands on his back as he stopped before them.
“I was just telling yar friend ‘ere that I don’t want any trouble in this ship. We all want smooth sailin’, eh?”
“Of course, of course.” The benevolent lord gave a small but vibrant smile. “My comrades and I are quite well-behaved. If there is any problem, they’ll answer to me.”
“Good.” He walked away, a thick blue coat billowing behind him as he did.
Valeriana wasn’t that well-versed in pirate tongue which made her feel doubtful. Although she did understand bits of the point he was trying to get through, she wasn’t certain. She nodded gratefully at Rowe.
“Bear with it, Valeriana,” said Rowe. “They think women are unlucky on board.”
“Seriously?” She frowned. “That’s so sexist.”
Lord Lienhard coughed to grab her attention. “Ahoy, matey!” He waved in an overdramatic manner that it came out somewhat forced.
Valeriana eyed him. “It doesn’t suit you, sorry.”
“I’m trying.” He shrugged.
“What do you need?” she asked him.
“Well, Kee-dear is feeling sea sick.” He pointed at Keelan. The poor boy was bent over, puking his guts out to the waters.
Valeriana walked over and began running a hand up and down his back. “Are you alright?”
Keelan looked up at her, his face looking practically green. “I . . . hate the sea,” he muttered.
“So you’re prone to motion sickness? Why didn’t you tell us?” Valeriana asked.
“He doesn’t have trouble riding carriages, but this one seems to be a little bit too much,” Rowe stated.
The eleventh-ranker then went limp against the ship’s railings. “I . . . want . . . land . . . land . . . where . . .” he muttered.
“How do you feel?”
“Bad.” He barely managed another word before he started vomiting again. “I . . . wonder if . . . this is . . . how pregnant ladies feel.”
“Motion sickness is different from morning sickness you know,” Aneeka said.
“Different,” Brindon stated indifferently.
“What exactly do we do about this?” Rowe sighed, brushing back his russet hair and looking up at the sky thoughtfully as he started to think up of a solution.
“I’ll go and ask someone if they can give something for Keelan’s motion sickness,” Valeriana said. “Maybe it’s better if we bring him to the . . . um . . . place we’re staying in.”
“You’re right. Come on, Keelan.”
“No.” He groaned, staring at the calm waters they were drifting on, occasional splashes sprinkling on the ship’s sides. “If I do, I’ll . . .” He failed to continue and finish his sentence.
“Yup, I better go find someone.” The girl sighed.
“You do that.”
“Wait a moment, Valeriana,” Rowe called after her.
“I do not recommend you going far,” he stated, his brows scrunched up worriedly. “There is something wrong, but I cannot quite make it out. Just be careful, alright?”
“Uh, sure . . .”
Valeriana tried approaching some of the crews, but they were too busy to even pay attention—not to mention scary-looking and just plain intimidating.
“Uh . . . um . . .”
“Go ‘way, lass,” growled the man in reply, puffing out his hairy, bare chest before twirling a cutlass in the air. “Don’t even think ’bout it.”
The man turned his back on her without letting her continue and walked away. Valeriana sighed in frustration, blowing the hair out of her face. A harsh sea breeze blew past her hair, bringing a chilly wind that sent goosebumps trailing her skin.
“It’s really cold out, isn’t it?” echoed a woman’s voice behind her.
“Over here. I might just have what you need.”
Valeriana turned and saw a hooded figure standing eerily. Her painted lips were shown, but the rest of her face remained covered. She had on a knowing smile that the girl’s brows furrowed and the hair on the back of her neck stood up. A slight shiver came running down her spine.
The fifth-ranker looked back to her group and felt uncomfortable from straying too far. The ship was large enough and very unfamiliar, not to mention Rowe’s advice from a while ago.
“Um . . .” She brushed her arms in slight reluctance. “I need something.”
“Is it something you need? Or something you want?” She tilted her head to the side inquiringly, her smile gradually widening.
“I guess both?”
For some reason, she felt like they were talking about two, entirely different things.
The woman stepped closer, turning to look out to the waters they were sailing on. They stood somewhere near the ship’s railings so it gave them a clear and majestic view of the open sea. “I have a feeling that you’re heart’s been yearning for something you lost.”
She shook her head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You know very well what it’s about.” She chuckled softly.
Now this felt creepy.
Valeriana was getting suspicious of this woman. There was something entirely off about her and she felt unsettled just being in her presence. The aura surrounding the woman . . . it didn’t feel right at all.
Feeling irritated, she started speaking. “What do you want?”
“I think I should be telling that to you, girl,” she whispered.
Valeriana backed away a bit. “Who are you anyway?”
“My identity is of no importance. I believe I have something you might be interested in.” She smiled.
Valeriana narrowed her eyes. “I’d rather not, really.”
“Deals are normal part of this world. I’m sure you’ll want it enough that you’ll be ready to do anything to get it back,” the hooded woman said with certainty and confidence.
“What exactly are you talking about?”
Rowe, meanwhile, felt an ominous presence in the area. There was something aboard the ship that emitted malice and contempt. He refocused his attention from watching Aneeka comforting Keelan and looked around, scanning his surroundings warily.
On the other hand, Valeriana’s curiosity was growing. The woman merely came closer instead of answering so that they were standing shoulder to shoulder—a little bit too close for comfort. She grabbed something under the cloak she wore and pulled out an object Valeriana never thought she would ever see again.
The familiar designs on the band . . . the little scratches it had on some areas which were a result of her carelessness—it was her bracelet. Her eyes would never lie. It was the very same and exact bracelet that her father gave her during her fifth birthday.
“My . . .” She looked up at the woman in suspicion. “How did you—”
Valeriana reached out to grab it, but the stranger was quick to react and pulled her hand back. She extended her arms to the opposite side so that the bracelet was out of Valeriana’s reach, clicking her tongue before shaking her head disapprovingly.
From a look of wonder, Valeriana’s face contorted to one with anger and irritation. “Who are you?”
The woman leaned closer to Valeriana. “Do you want it back?”
“Hand it over,” she answered.
“I’m asking you in a nice way. Don’t you think it’s common courtesy to answer me properly?” the stranger replied.
“What do you want?” Valeriana hissed, trying to dive for the bracelet again.
This woman couldn’t possibly be . . .
“In exchange for your bracelet, I only want one thing.” She then dropped the jewelry into Valeriana’s hands, much to the girl’s relief.
The feeling of its familiar coldness and weight gave the girl much relief and filled her heart with a warm sensation that she almost wanted to cry. She never actually thought she would ever see it again—not after that incident that happened back in the academy.
The girl redirected her gaze to the woman before her before suddenly she heard Rowe yell.
“Demon!” said the second-ranker before running towards them without hesitation. “Valeriana! Get away from that thing!”
The woman fully closed the distance between them, a knife between her slender fingers parting the flesh on Valeriana’s stomach. The sensation of the sharp blade penetrating through her skin and straight into her guts made the girl’s mouth drop open from the agonizing pain. Her gasp came short as her throat threatened to release a silent scream as the woman pulled her weapon back abruptly, warm blood soaking her clothes.
“I only want your life,” she whispered in her ear, blowing a breath into her right ear. “I have trouble to confront. But for now, you’re shark bait.” She then gave Valeriana a small push that her weakening body fell over the railings and straight down into the brine waters.
She stared wide-eyed at the woman who merely smiled down at her from above as she continued to fall. That angle also gave her a clear view of her bewitching black eyes, complimented by strands of dark hair falling on her face.
“A . . . demon.” Was the last word that escaped her mouth before she plunged into the water with a loud splash.
“Enseferus al aslonta de vegarus sol!” The air crackled from the spell Rowe had casted and restraints appeared to tie the demon down.
A scream of agony tore through her throat as the chains touched her skin and wrapped around her body. “Oh, and the rankers appear.” She hissed. “It is too late now! That girl was as naïve as a newborn child!”
“Elsefanta edgera solicitus nor!” Aneeka appeared beside the second-ranker to help.
“Handle this for me, Aneeka,” said Rowe. “I’m going after Valeriana!”
“Wait! Rowe! Rowe! You can’t—farus del dohn antana quivier!”
Throwing his shirt over his head, Rowe jumped in.
Valeriana felt glad to have her bracelet back. The cost she paid to get it, however, was a bit too over-the-top. Her blood seeped through her wound, clouding the waters in red along with her honey-golden hair curling wildly around her sinking form.
And this is where it’s all true—there is loss in stupidity and death in a fool.
Valeriana tried to endure the mild sting of salt in her eyes, the suffocating water surrounding her ruthlessly. This sensation felt so familiar—but she knew why. This wasn’t the first time she was drowning.
She barely had any strength to swim up towards the surface as blood was speedily leaking from her body. Yet, she put all of her remaining energy in holding her bracelet tightly as she held her breath and stared at the faint rippled figure of the sun shining directly above her.
Her vision gradually dimmed and she felt herself slowly slipping out of consciousness. Tiredly, she released the last supply of air she breathed in and watched as it escaped rapidly in numerous bubbles racing towards the surface.
She probably just developed hydrophobia.
Something moved under the water, the soft sound of significantly large body swimming towards her. Valeriana didn’t know if she was hallucinating or if it was only a small fish exaggerated only by her paranoid mind.
What if it really was a shark?
She felt something grab her around the waist and drag her towards it. The hands were scaly somewhat and felt unusually slippery, but was warm nonetheless.
She dragged her gaze lazily towards the blurry figure that swam beside her, opening her mouth in an attempt to speak.
‘Do not talk,’ said a voice inside her head. ‘It will not work.’
She felt like asking, but the darkness consumed her entirely and she blacked out.