CASeries #2: LEGEND
Chapter 13 ♕ The Guardians of the Seas
A chorus of laughter and mischievous giggling pulled Valeriana to consciousness. There was something tickling the soles of her feet that she could not help but twitch from the sensation. Her unfocused vision landed on two figures sitting in front of her, their voices hushed as they talked. The pain was barely even there, but still present.
“Sshhh,” shushed someone. “You woke her, see?”
“But it’s true! Look, aren’t these weird?” the other replied, at the same time something poked her toes. “This is my second time seeing it, but they really look strange.”
“Yeah, yeah. I get that.”
It smelled like the ocean. There was a faint echo of rolling waters along with a pleasing singing voice that sounded utterly enchanting as it bounced off the walls. Valeriana blinked for a few times, trying to clear her vision until she was able to get a good look on whatever or whoever was in front of her.
The girl’s eyes widened as it landed on the two girls. “Ah!” she screamed.
“Clyte, Elvira,” a gentle voice called out. “Where are your manners?”
The two girls turned away from Valeriana, their small bodies twisting to look at the source of the voice. “We’re sorry, Diana!” they exclaimed in unison.
Their ears were webbed and colored scales covered the fleshy portion under the fullness of their cheeks in the shape of a triangle. Their upper body was very human-like, their skin fair and creamy until it ended around their waist line where a layer of shiny and lustrous scales thickened and two fins protruded out on each side further down. The place where their legs were supposed to be had been taken by a long fishtail.
Her mind screamed—or rather, she did. “Mermaids?!”
They looked back at her in wonder.
“Rejoice!” cried the first girl on her right. “She’s awake!”
“I can see that,” replied the other one on her left. “But, miss, we aren’t mermaids.”
“Then what are you?!”
“Are you feeling alright now?” the one on the right asked giddily and demandingly, her face brimming with brightness and enthusiasm. “Oh please, say yes! Say yes!”
She tried to scoot back but winced when a sharp string cut through her as if she was being stabbed again. She grunted, clutching the wound on her stomach in futile effort to stop the pain. As her face twisted in agony, the little undine girl looked saddened.
“There’s your answer.”
Valeriana examined the both of them. Their features matched that they probably were sisters—born a year apart. They had identical electric blue eyes and damp, brown hair that tumbled down their back in smooth waves. Scales lined the skin of their arms and shoulders. Their nails were sharp enough that they could probably easily cut through flesh.
She then realized she had her back against a boulder cushioned with soft leaves and mosses growing on its surface. It was the perfect substitute for a tough pillow, it seemed. She eyed the two undines in front of her warily, feeling cautious.
“Who are you?” she asked them, her voice coming out raspy and rough. “Where am I? LOL, look at me spouting lines from a cliché kidnap movie or maybe that the hospital scene with the amnesia—only that this one resembles fantasy more.”
They looked somewhat confused, but brushed it aside. “Calm down, we mean you no harm,” said the oldest one. “We are good souls.”
She eyed her surroundings and saw the fact that they were inside a cave of some sort. There were holes on the ceiling where the light came through, and growing stalactites dripping with water.
Her mouth moistened.
“You don’t have to be afraid,” said the bright girl from earlier. “We won’t hurt you, we promise!” She held her hand up loosely.
“Big brother found you earlier. He said you were bleeding,” said her sister.
“Like lots! My name is Clyte!” the childish one said. “And this is my sister Elvira! What do we call you?!”
Is it alright to trust them? What if they were demons too? Surely this must be all a façade so that they can eat me later, right? She thought, ridiculous ideas running through her head.
Seeming as if she could read her mind, Clyte began laughing. “We aren’t demons, silly! Didn’t your mother ever teach you that?”
“How did you—” She gulped, trying to erase the dryness in her throat.
“I’ll get some water,” Elvira said before turning away and crawling towards somewhere, leaving her and Clyte alone to talk.
“Don’t tell me you never knew about undines! Where did you come from, anyway? Some isolated mountain in land somewhere?” She nagged, puffing out her cheeks in frustration as she probed around Valeriana’s thoughts like it was a simple heap of clothes.
“Clyte!” scolded the voice from earlier that came from the woman apparently named Diana. “It is not polite to enter someone’s mind without permission.”
She backed off a bit. “I’m sorry. I got carried away.”
An older woman took the place where Elvira previously was and smiled. “Hello, my dear. I am called Diana. How is your wound?”
She looked up at her, mesmerized.
The woman was undeniably beautiful alright. She had enthralling sea-green eyes lined by a thick fringe of dark and long lashes. Her hair was platinum blond, quite wavy like the other two. It pooled on her lap and hid her scale-covered chest in beguiling curtains. Her cheekbones were round, and her lips were plump and lush. Her ears, like the others, resembled webbed fins.
They all had something amazing—golden tails!
So stories about mermaids being pretty were all true. Their appearance was nothing like Valeriana imagined they would be, but it gave an air of ethereality around them.
“You were stabbed by a demon’s blade,” she said, her tone low and worried. “Blades forged by those creatures are infamous for being covered with fast-killing poisons. You would’ve died instantly.”
“Then why am I . . .” she trailed off. “Did you save me?”
Diana shook her head. “We would’ve been too late,” she answered.
“Then how?” Valeriana asked, swallowing loudly.
“That bracelet your holding.” She nodded towards the item she assiduously clutched despite her weariness. “It gave you protection and slowed the poison from spreading too quickly.”
She brought her bracelet in front of her face and sighed, staring at the aesthetic design carved on its surface. “I guess . . . I should still be thankful, nonetheless.” She swallowed again, willing for the scratchy feeling to go away.
So her bracelet saved her life. Again.
Diana smiled. “Fear not, we are far from being demons,” she said. “I got a feeling you’re not entirely aware of what’s going on in this world.”
Valeriana hesitantly shook her head and mouthed, “No.”
“You see, before demons even appeared Valemnia had its own guardians and other beasts,” she said. “We are far from being demons.”
“I . . . see . . .” She coughed. “I’m sorry.”
Now that she was told, she didn’t feel anything negative from them at all. In fact, their presence seemed more otherworldly and exotic.
Elvira finally came back, holding a leaf as a makeshift cup filled with fresh water. Valeriana eyed it hungrily as the girl passed it to the woman’s hand. Diana muttered a small ‘thank you’ towards Elvira before holding out the cup towards Valeriana to drink.
The water tasted like heaven in the fifth-ranker’s mouth. She swallowed it hungrily until the very last drop, relieved for finally being able to quench her thirst. As a wet trail dripped down her chin and landed on her chest, she took notice of something. Her clothes were damp and clung to her skin uncomfortably. It seemed as though it hadn’t been that long since she was pulled out of the water.
She shivered involuntarily from the coldness biting her skin and breathed. “T-thank you very much.”
“You should tell that to Calder. He’s the one who saved you.”
“Where is he now?” she asked, absentmindedly wiping her chin.
“Hunting for food,” Diana answered.
Valeriana felt the pain from her wound slowly vanish. A warm sensation tingled on her skin, starting from her stomach until it reached the very tips of her toes and fingers. It was strange, yet cozy. It made her feel rejuvenated.
She looked down at her wound curiously and saw the broken skin healing itself. “What? Why the hell am I . . .” She then lifted her injured hand where a blade had struck. The cut had almost faded.
“You drank the water from our healing fountain. It’s able to heal any wound no matter how severe, and cure anyone of a sickness—so long as the person is not dead,.” Diana told her, smiling. “You’ll be back in your best condition in short amount of time, so long as you don’t strain yourself. It might take a while, though, considering the severity of your condition.”
She was dumbfounded by what she just heard. “Fountain what? Since when? How long?”
“An hour or two? Maybe thirty minutes? If you continue to drink it, that is.”
“Did you make me drink this when you got me?” she asked curiously.
“Only a little bit so that your body can accept it. It needs to be gradually introduced since it may cause unfavorable results if hastened.”
She quieted. So first, a demon attacking her on some crazy pirate ship. Now, some fountain business? What happened when she fell off anyway?
“Look, I’m really grateful about all of this . . . but I don’t think I can stay here,” she told them. “I’m probably left behind by the ship I’m supposed to be in. I don’t want the others to worry about me.”
“Your ship has gone off now. There’s no way to catch up to them.”
“But I . . .” Her face creased with worry. “How the heck am I going to go back?”
“You don’t have to worry,” Diana reassured, placing a hand over hers. “The coast is not that far away from here, we can take you to back if you’re well enough.”
“But that demon!” she exclaimed. “I have to go back to Rowe and the others! I’m worried—something bad might’ve happened! I can’t just leave them behind. They—they . . .” Valeriana tried to get up but the pain from her wound stopped her from doing so.
The girl was forced back on her previous position by Diana. “Relax, Valeriana. You’ll bleed.”
“I have to . . .”
The undine shushed her. “I do not know what state your friends are in right now, but being aboard that ship full of battle-ready sailors, do you think they’ll be in danger?”
She sighed after being reminded. They were the Celestial Twelve—the best warriors of their generation—well, at least as students. Still, it was practically useless worrying about them.
“You’re right. I shouldn’t worry too much. They are well-trained fighters after all—the best I know so far.”
Diana smiled. “That’s it.”
She paused for a moment to think. “I hope Keelan and the others are alright . . .” she whispered. “The question now is how I’m supposed to . . .” she trailed off when an idea clicked into her brain. “That’s right. Corvan and the others must still be in the port! Their ship doesn’t leave until three hours or something. How many minutes passed since I fell in anyway?”
“About thirty or more. An hour, maybe.” Diana smiled, running her fingers through Clyte’s hair as the girl started picking on the rocks on the ground.
“Then, I think I have two hours left.” She breathed, relaxing at the good news. “But that demon . . . she was on board. Man. I’m an idiot. I knew that something was wrong but I was too stupid to even realize it. I really hope the others are safe.”
“Your friends—I can’t help but ask. Who are they?”
“Oh.” She stared at her. “They’re really cool people from the academy. A few of the Celestial Twelve.”
The undine’s eyes brightened. “So they are? I’ve heard lots of stories about them—coast to coast in different places. To think you belonged in their ranks is outstanding!”
“How did you know?” Valeriana asked. “Now that I think about it, can you read my mind?”
Diana reddened. “I’m sorry for intruding,” she whispered. “It’s natural for us to know the thoughts of another since we often use it to communicate when underwater. I will try to stay away from your thoughts, though.”
“That explains it,” she whispered.
“I’m going for a dip. I’m feeling dry,” Clyte said before she grabbed Elvira’s hand and dragged her along. “Come with me!”
Valeriana watched the two as they crawled towards the water and jumped in gracefully. “This is just weird,” she muttered.
“Is this your first encounter with our kind?” Diana asked her, her green tail flicking and curling in the water with her every word as she supported her whole weight with one hand. Valeriana didn’t realize that the water was only a few steps away from where she currently was until then.
The girl looked at the undine’s face, noticing small scales decorating the spot around her eyes. This creature in front of her—alive and breathing—appeared utterly exotic and exquisite. This half-woman, half-fish creature took the words right out of her mouth.
“The first time, really.” She breathed. “Can I just say this?”
“What is it?”
“You’re really pretty,” she told her. “So pretty it’s criminal.”
Diana laughed. “Thank you. Your name is Valeriana, correct?”
She blushed, realizing she was talking and asking them a lot of questions without even bothering to introduce herself. “I’m sorry. Yes. It’s Valeriana. Valeriana Kerrigan.”
“Valeriana is a beautiful name itself,” the woman replied. “You are, as well.”
“T-thank you.” She smiled, embarrassed from being given a compliment by a gorgeous undine. “Your name is Diana, right?”
Clyte and Elvira’s giggling reverberated along with sporadic water splashes. The two were immersed in their own little world, playing tag in the water like the kids they were.
“Why is it that you seem to be feeling down?” Diana asked, tilting her head charmingly. “Something tells me you are discontented about something. Aren’t you happy you’re still alive?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just uh . . . I realized I caused so much trouble for my friends again.” She paused. “I seem to be good at nothing except being a liability. I say I’ll try to be trustworthy, dependable, and all those other things but I’m exactly the opposite.”
“Hm . . .” She smiled. “Well, then, let me propose to you something.”
Valeriana looked at her curiously. “What is it?”
“Undines are one of the richest of guardians aside from the drakons—historically, that is, but with them out of the way considering they’re extinct, that gives us the title. The title of guardians has been bestowed upon the twin-tailed lions, who I’m guessing, you’ve already met.” With that, she flicked her wrist and waved her hand slowly, causing the entire cavern to shine and glow. The faint reflections on the rippling water shined brightly against her eyes and hypnotically burst in a myriad of colors. The totally boring cave she didn’t care about before had chunks of diamonds actually embedded on the rocks.
“Holy shiznits.” She gasped.
“We hold keys to different wealthy sites, filled with sunken treasures from the different ships of different voyages,” the undine told her. “But guarding these treasures comes with great dangers, and, as you can see, there are not that many of us.”
“Well, Valemnia is not exactly the safest place, as it’s already obvious. But in comparison to actual demons, even ordinary Valemnians can become worse.” She paused and held on to a pearl necklace delicately resting on her chest. “You’ve heard . . . of undines? Perhaps selkies? Nymphs, sylphs, among other things?”
“I guess. But I don’t really know much about them.”
“Undines are the highest form of water creatures here in Valemnia. I heard you call us mermaids a while ago, but they are a tad different from us.”
“What sort of tad different?”
“Among all, we are the only ones born with a pearl. This,” she said, showing a blue pearl to Valeriana. It had a strange glint to it. “Our pearl contains our power to control the seas, without it, we are rendered useless. The purer the color of the pearl, the stronger you are. And whoever lays their hands on this, they can become the ruler of the seven seas.”
“What does that have to do with the proposal?” Valeriana inquired, staring up at her in wonder. “And why are you telling me this? Aren’t you afraid I’m going to steal that or something?”
She laughed demurely but gave her a weird look. “Aren’t you interested in guarding the treasures yourself? Becoming the ruler of the waves? If you take this pearl, that’ll make it all the more possible. After all, even among undines, you can sort of call me royalty.”
“You? Royalty? Wow, then I should’ve been calling you Your Highness. Anyway, sorry, but, no, thank you.” She shook her head vigorously. “I’ve already got a lot on my plate, I can’t take more. Besides, if I guard the treasures with you, that means I can’t continue my work in the academy. That’ll cause even more trouble. I haven’t even found out why I’m like this and why the hell would anybody wanna kill me!”
“I see . . .” Diana nodded.
“Thank you again for saving me. You tempt me with treasures and an honor, and it’s not like I don’t appreciate that. But if I just go and accept, what’s the purpose?” she whispered, looking down at her bracelet. Suddenly knowing what it’s capable of somehow made her reluctant to wear it—or rather, not knowing exactly what it’s capable of doing. “There are still things that I need to do, and the first on my list now is to get back.”
The undine then started laughing, her voice echoing louder than Valeriana expected. Clyte and Elvira paused from playing and looked at the two, wondering what in the world happened.
“You are the only other person who had the guts to tell that to me. Normal people would’ve succumbed to my temptation easily, but it seems it doesn’t work on you.” The glow from within the cavern vanished, leaving everything dark once again. “For that, instead of dragging you to the depths of the sea and not letting you see your friends again forever, we’ll give you the opposite instead.”
Valeriana backed away from her in fear. “You had a plan like that? So you did plan to eat me! This is why I have trust issues!”
“I was just kidding. You do not have to worry at all,” Diana told her reassuringly. “I promise that we’ll get you to that ship. But, honestly, if you said yes or attempted to do anything, you would’ve ended up dead.”
Valeriana couldn’t help but cower more.
Clyte and Elvira screamed so suddenly that Diana and Valeriana’s heads whipped towards their direction in alert, only to find the two caged inside the arms of another figure—a male, to be exact. He was dripping wet from being just recently submerged in water, droplets trickling down his skin. His brown hair was matted against the side of his face, flat on his head.
“Calder!” they exclaimed.
“Playing again? Don’t you get tired?” he asked them, his deep voice chuckling as he held them close against his chest.
“Look, Calder! She’s awake!” Clyte pointed towards Valeriana.
Calder’s eyes went to Valeriana, his eyes widening in delight. His webbed ears twitched before he dove under water and swam gracefully towards Diana and her.
“S-so that’s Calder?” she asked, cautious of the undine beside her.
“He can be no one else,” Diana replied.
The merman—or undine, whatever—broke out of the surface and sat close to Valeriana. Like the others, he, too, had a golden tail. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Better. Thank you for saving me. I would’ve probably died without you.” Valeriana nodded to him gratefully.
After having a good look at him in a closer distance, Valeriana could see that he was way beyond attractive. Perhaps, a little bit too attractive that the girl wanted to simply close her eyes and look away. He radiated with vigor and confidence any man of his age would’ve had. His eyes were the same sea-green like Diana’s, giving the impression of them being somewhat related as well.
“You’re welcome. Anyone would’ve done the same.” He smiled brilliantly at her. “I saw you fall out of the ship and my instinct was to simply save you.”
“I really don’t know how to express my gratitude. I seem to have bad luck whenever I’m in water. But I’m grateful, really. I didn’t want to die just yet.” She grumbled.
“So . . .” He grinned. “Seeing as she’s still here means she passed the test? What did I tell you, Diana?”
Diana cocked a perfect brow, but did not answer.
“Who wants some fish?” He held out his hand and revealed it to be full of freshly-caught fishes—alive and flipping.
Valeriana stared at them questioningly. “Isn’t that like . . . semi-cannibalism? For you guys, I mean.” She asked them.
The two exchanged looks before laughing.
The girl gave them a strained smile.
I really wish the others are alright. She thought.