Celeste AcademyLegend

Chapter 22 ♕ The City of Loquin

CASeries #2: LEGEND

Chapter 22 ♕ The City of Loquin

Corvan called for a short break while he discussed with Charles and Rowe their next step. The others were curious, but stayed back and took out some snacks to help replenish their spent energy from the recent fight. Zion, even so, did not feel at ease sitting back and watching others decide for himself. Despite his dissatisfaction, the fact that he was only tagging along held back any thoughts of protest.

He huffed. “And I thought . . .” he grumbled.

“Venting your frustration through food? That apple won’t solve your problems,” Tamara told him as she stopped to lean on the wall next to him, taking out a pack of cubed cheese and bread from one of the bags.

He continued chewing before biting out a big piece, ignoring her. Straining his ears, he tried tuning in to their conversation, only to fail with the amount of noise the others were making.

“What I’m assuming is . . .” Rowe started. “You have a very strong connection with your soul that you are blessed with the ability of touching both worlds. There is no better explanation, at least not at the moment.”

“Touching both worlds?” she repeated.

“There are technically two and I’m not talking about Earth. It is where we are moving now while the other belongs to the realm of the spirits.”

“Oh . . . that.” She nodded.

“So that explains it.” Charles nodded. “Animals, too, have souls. Yet, seeing as we cannot understand their language normally, you listen to the words of their souls instead. That’s the reason why you can talk to them.”

“Why now?” Corvan asked, regarding Valeriana with curiosity.

“The Blessing of the Sea.” The words rolled out of her tongue before she could even stop it. “It just suddenly came to me a while ago. . . I think that, it was after I fell from the ship. I knew it was a very important encounter, but I can only remember the words I was told, but the exact memories of it were erased from my head,” she told them. “And I heard something about a gift and one which cannot be taken away by another.”

“A gift, you say?” Corvan was more than unconvinced.

“A gift . . . “ she trailed off. “From Eugene.”

“Eugene?!” Charles looked uncertain. “Who in the world is he?”

“No . . . uh . . . it sounds like that. Foundin. It has a ‘u’ and an ‘n’ somewhere! I remember us talking about it before.” She puffed out her cheeks in frustration, narrowing her eyes as she tried to put her entire focus into remembering the exact word.

“You don’t mean undine, perhaps?” Rowe corrected, a small smile toying with his lips as he scratched his forehead in amusement.

“Yes!” Valeriana clapped, jumped, and cheered. The nagging itch she had been feeling since the last few minutes was scratched at last. “Yes! That’s exactly it! Thank you!”

“You’re welcome.”

“So this validates your encounter with the undines. They were the ones who saved your life. They were also responsible for healing all your wounds.” Charles was silent for a few moments, his mind obviously running with different possibilities. “Still, to think that they would grant you the Blessing of the Sea is truly astounding. They must’ve taken a liking to you.”

“What is the Blessing of the Sea stuff? What does it do?”

“That’ll be hard to explain,” Rowe stated. “The blessings are . . . unpredictable.”

“There must be an explanation,” Corvan insisted. “Something to do with her soul, perhaps.”

“Hmm . . .” Rowe hummed. “The headache that couldn’t be healed . . . it must have something to do with all of this.” He paused. “Now that I remember, you were saying things to yourself. What was happening during that time?”

Valeriana scratched her head as she tried to recall what happened exactly back then. “All I remember was that everything around me went dark and I couldn’t hear properly. Then that stuff . . .”

“What happened after?”

“I don’t really remember what it exactly said. Just bits of it.”

“You have to remember,” Charles told her.

“Er . . .” She racked her mind for the right words. “Something with eyes and ears,” she said. “Or something like that.”

They all exchanged glances.

“Eyes and ears probably refers to those of the soul,s” Rowe muttered. “Perhaps . . . it didn’t come all at once.” He nodded to himself, his brows creased. “The soul is a very fragile thing indeed. You see . . . how do I explain this? Exposing it to something it’s not used to all at once will ultimately cause its destruction. You might’ve died.”

Valeriana paled at his words. “Die, you say?”

“Or it would’ve done a considerable damage. It’s very hard to put into words. But I think you know what I mean.”

“Can you explain a little bit more?” She shook her head as she gaped slightly in disbelief.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “Let us say you have abilities that you haven’t used for a very long time. Compare it to the muscles in the body. Your soul cannot handle the strain of using the power you have so suddenly. It needs to slowly adapt itself. Like how much your body handles exercises. You first need to warm up.”

“I think I somehow get it,” she answered.

After a few seconds of pondering, Valeriana’s thoughts were levered to the Twelve’s concerns. It felt strange to have them feel so troubled for her sake.

“You know . . . I really appreciate you guys being concerned and all. What I want to know is why?”

Charles raised a brow. “Do you not want help in finding answers to these questions?”

“Well, I do. But why do you have to go out of your way to do this?” she asked. “I feel like you’re all a little bit too concerned and it bothers me a little.”

“Ah, so it is like that.” Rowe sighed.

Corvan gazed at her, the ever present frown and look of demand on his face. “You dislike it, then.”

“What? No.” She shook her head fervently. “No. Of course not.”

“Then don’t ask questions,” he firmly told her. “It’s better to solve this straight out rather than hear you whine all day. There is no way we can afford anyone getting distracted.”

Rowe, noticing her confusion, considerately decided to step in and explain. “What he meant to say was that we left the academy so suddenly that you weren’t given proper time to put yourself together and find the answers to the questions bothering you. Do pardon us if it felt like we were invading your personal space. We were merely trying to help . . . although I guess this is a little bit too much.” He gazed at her and smiled at the look of bewilderment. “We’re one to care for our own, Valeriana.” Rowe chuckled. “Don’t look so shocked.”

“When did you guys plan all this?” she inquired.

“Does everything need planning?” Charles replied. “I merely prefer knowing what kind of card I have in my hands.”

“Card?”

“Knowing the abilities of everyone within the group I’m working with is crucial. It is so that I’ll know how to make use of them properly.” The fourth-ranker pulled his glasses off and started cleaning the lenses with a piece of cloth.

He looked different without glasses.

Valeriana eyed him with disbelief. “So how the heck do you guys even see me? A pawn on a chessboard?”

Charles slipped his glasses back on. “Something like that yes. I think it’s time to tell the others the plan. Let’s continue dealing with this matter after we retake the City of Loquin.”

With that, he turned and walked towards where the others were. Rowe, Corvan, and Valeriana—whose brain was still muddled after all the recent chat—followed him.

“Alright, everyone. Here’s the plan I’ve discussed with the others.” Charles walked forward as the group gathered around at the sound of his call. He crouched and flattened a map he took from inside his coat on the cold floor, but not before sweeping away the dirt. “This is the map of the city.”

They all looked at the spot where his finger was pointing.

“This is where we currently are,” he said, tapping on it. “Now, we’ve divided ourselves into three groups, with five members in each and four for the last. Corvan, Rowe, and I will be leading these groups separately. Any objections?”

Eyes glanced between the people standing beside them, but no one spoke in protest nor did anyone do anything that signified the fact that they were against the notion. Seeing this, Charles proceeded in telling them the plan.

“Now, it is possible that whoever is causing all of this chaos is now aware that we have defeated the guards of the entrance to the city. I’m quite sure that a trap is already being set for us, so it is better not to stay together to avoid getting captured all at once if ever. Rowe, Aneeka, and Valeriana will be joining different groups, since I think that they are very important in fighting with whoever we’re up against.”

“The problem is they haven’t fully recovered yet. Do you think they’ll be of any use at all?” Courtney butted in.

“Don’t worry about that for now,” Corvan told her. “The main focus here is that we investigate the current state of the city. Hence, we’ll be taking different directions in order to gather as much information as we can. My group will head north, Charles will head east, and Rowe’s will go west. After going through the area, we’ll meet up there—” He pointed to the farther end of the map. “—the other end of the city, in Hamton Park.”

“Now if things take a bad turn, fire the distress signal,” Rowe advised.

“What about the demons?” Elfre quipped.

Charles was the one who answered this time. “That’s what we’ll be finding out. If you find anything strange, we’ll have to talk about it in the meeting place. That is where we’ll discuss the final plan. Is that clear?”

They all nodded and murmured agreements.

“Tamara, Valeriana, Keelan and Brindon—you go with me.” Corvan eyed each individual whose names he called.

“I’ll be with Raziel, Zevlin, Genevieve, and Courtney,” Rowe spoke.

“Elfre, Aneeka, and Zion you come with me,” Charles said.

“Now, things may not go as planned. Whatever happens, try to regroup. Is that clear?” the first-ranker inquired.

The leaders looked between their comrades as the members nodded once more.

“Good. Let’s head out.”

#

Contrary to expectations, the presence of winter was nowhere to be seen. While the blizzard had been wild on the other side, what greeted them after emerging from the tunnel was a fine orchard—a grass field so thick, the ground could hardly be seen while looking up, the view of the sky was blocked by trees, their branches lengthy and bountiful with leaves.

“Now this is unusual,” Aneeka commented.

Ahead of them were three paths, one leading to north, east, and west. This was probably where they would have to part, which made some nervous. Valeriana was no exception, as the idea of confronting demons was quite nerve-wracking. She had only personally seen a handful based on her experiences, and she tried not to go near the barriers around the academy as much as she could in fear.

Although this was nothing compared to the presence of the demons around the academy, it was there.

She looked around and felt the tiniest sliver of suspicion. The mere sight of the place before her had set her off.

A place of unsettling peace—and they all felt it. Their hackles rose further.

Tamara walked forward, rubbing her jaws and popping her knuckles.

“This doesn’t seem to fit an image of a city ‘overtaken by demons’.” Zion crossed his arms and eyed his surroundings dubiously. “This doesn’t make sense at all.”

“Don’t get deceived by appearance,” Corvan said, raking his fingers through his hair. The long strands slipped silkily between his fingers. “You saw what happened in the tunnel. This might be a trap.”

Like, how does he do that with his hair? Valeriana mused.

“He’s right. Do not let your guard down,” Rowe agreed.

“I won’t ever be comfortable here anyway,” Tamara commented. “Ah, so does that mean I can get out of these clothes? I’m feeling hot already.”

“No.” Corvan waved his hand in disapproval as Tamara started taking off her winter coat. “Keep those on. This is still Prelurésia, we don’t know what to expect.”

The third-ranker muttered protests. “But I’ll sweat a lot if I keep it on . . .”

After taking a few seconds examining their surroundings, the second-ranker decided to speak. Valeriana took the time looking between each of her comrades, silently wishing them luck. Even Courtney, who she briefly exchanged gazes with. It was awkward having to look into each other’s eyes though, seeing as both of them had an unpleasant history. Seeing that, they looked away at the same time.

“Well, this is where we part,” Rowe said, the soft chatter of the others on the background.

“Make sure none of you die while you’re at it,” Elfre quipped as she turned her back and went with her group.

Zion approached Valeriana with a smile. She was just about to avoid him when he suddenly caught her wrist and pulled her back.

“Not so fast!” he exclaimed before tugging on her hand and bringing her fingers to his lips for a kiss.

The way his lips landed on her knuckles seemed almost surreal—and watching and letting him do that made her feel flustered as well. He looked up and smiled at her reaction before the girl willfully pulled back her hand, hiding it by the curve of her spine.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“Oh, but I had to.” He smiled and his eyes twinkled the same. “I rarely even have time to talk to you seeing as you’re very feisty and stubborn about avoiding me. I’ll just have to chase you down if I must.”

They suddenly heard Corvan yell, “Enough with those unnecessary goodbyes. Let’s head out!”

“My, what timing, I find it definitely suspicious.” Zevlin rubbed his chin as thought aloud.

“Someone’s jealous,” Genevieve snickered, prodding her brother’s ribs with her elbow.

Zevlin returned the gesture with equal playfulness as they both tried to go unnoticed from the first-ranker’s piercing eyes. “I know. Shh.”

Zion turned away from Valeriana, muttering a small goodbye—albeit reluctantly—as he followed his group. He could very well not do so and force himself where he wanted, but he was an unwanted stowaway who they could very much drop if they wanted. Hence, despite it being not to his liking, he obeyed.

“Seriously? Why don’t they give it a chance?” Elfre crossed her arms as she stood beside the twins.

“It’s because Corvan’s an idiot,” Zevlin said, shaking his head.

“I know. It’s agonizing, painful, excruciating, and devastating!” Genevieve added.

“I didn’t mean Corvan. I mean Zion.”

The twins looked at Elfre, shocked. “You want Valion?!”

Elfre returned the look with confusion. “Come again?”

“Valion!” they chorused. “As in, Valeriana and Zion!”

Elfre shook her head. “You combined their names? What is up with that?”

“It’s a must! Remember that one with the demi-gods or something? We watched this movie with Valeriana and they have this ‘OTP’ thing. It’s what everyone calls shipping! It’s a trend in the human world! Val seems to do it quite a lot herself, and it seems fun, so we decided to tag along,” Genevieve said. “But Zevlin and I are cheering for Corval!”

“Corvan and Valeriana?”

“Yup!” With that statement, they gave a smug nod to Elfre and gave each other high-fives. “High-five!”

“Alright, you three. Enough with that.” Tamara clapped Elfre and Zevlin on the back before pushing them to different directions.

Corvan and Charles exchanged meaningful glances before silently walking off. Valeriana and a few others managed to catch this—no matter how brief it had been.

“You know,” Valeriana started as she watched Charles leave and follow his group. “I feel like Charles is acting more like the leader than you are,” she said to Corvan. “Isn’t that supposed to be your job?”

“Although the first-ranker, by default, gets the leadership, I do admit yielding to seniority as I must,” the first-ranker answered. “Do not take it the wrong way, even so. Charles may be telling you what to do but that’s only because I told him to tell you to do it.”

The crease gathered between her brows unknowingly as her molars grinded. “Yeah, right. So you pass off your responsibilities to another person. Geez, what a responsible leader you are.” Her boots pounded against the cobblestone pathway as she trained her eyes towards the stairway behind a wrought iron gate, the sound simultaneous with the others.

“Are you mocking me?” He turned to her with a glare.

“Nope,” she answered, popping the p. “Just saying the truth.”

His lips twisted. “I do not shirk my responsibilities as a part of the Twelve. I do everything but that.”

The ever-present frown had turned deeper. Valeriana’s lips curved thoughtfully as she realized she may have something out of line—which, she realized, with Corvan, she had frequently done.

“Alright. I’m sorry,” she muttered. “I didn’t know that would offend you.”

He straightened his back, the crease between his brows slowly vanishing. The look of anger, now replaced by confusion. “You’re apologizing?”

“What do you think of me as anyway?” she asked. “I do know how to apologize when I’m wrong, you know.”

They both went silent.

“You’re a hypocrite,” he told her.

“Hey!”

“Charles has a more elaborate way of talking about things, and his ideas are ingenuous. Rowe and I usually yield to his plans, since they are agreeable,” he said instead. “He’s better acting as the strategist after all.”

“Isn’t that Tamara’s job?” she asked. “Then doesn’t that mean she’s not doing it if Charles is doing it?”

“Hey!” the woman hollered sourly. “I try to do my job! It’s just that Charles is better.”

“So now you know who’s actually shirking her responsibilities,” Corvan told her, a wide smirk on his lips.

Tamara fumed and opened her mouth to speak when Keelan decided to butt in. “You’re no good at doing it anyway.”

“You mess up,” Brindon plainly added.

“I do not mess up!” She glared at each of them indignantly, her anger and fury as evident as her red hair.

“Then what do you do?” Valeriana asked, laughing quietly to herself.

“It’s not my fault you guys choose to let Charles do it and not me!” she exclaimed. She huffed, crossing her arms and lifting her chin proudly.

Keelan cracked up. “That’s because you never do anything right. No offense Tamara but you . . .” He continued to laughing, breathing in deeply.

“End up . . . bad job,” Brindon finished for him.

“Right. Right. I was getting to that,” he said. “Besides, you aren’t actually good at anything other than fighting and getting into trouble.” His forest-green eyes twinkled with laughter. He was trying to hold his snickers in, seeing as the third was already fuming with unvented anger.

“I’m good at something else!” she argued.

“Like what?” Valeriana challenged. Teasing Tamara was a huge change of pace—since she usually did most of it. Corvan looked amused as well.

Tamara froze. “P-poetry!”

“Which are actually rhyming words that came out of your mouth coincidentally.” The first-ranker smirked at the expression Tamara was making.

“Pottery!”

“You tried that?” said Brindon this time.

“Gardening?”

“You trampled on them,” Keelan said.

“Cooking!”

“You burned the food.” Valeriana sighed, shaking her head.

“Sports!”

“You make a terrible player.” Corvan looked at her disapprovingly. “You sent the other players to their grave.”

Tamara began brainstorming. “Writing!”

“You didn’t get farther than two words.”

“The flute!”

“Never saw you play it.”

Silence fell afterwards and Tamara failed to think of another skill she insisted on being good at.

“Alright. I give up.” She surrendered, her head hanging limp on her shoulders in disappointment. “I may not be that blessed after all.”

“You’re good . . .” Brindon began. “At something.”

“Really?” They all turned to him, eyeing the boy questioningly.

Brindon stopped walking though and didn’t speak another word. Instead of answering, he turned and looked behind him.

The others could only raise their brows at the sight as they, as well, ceased from walking and diverted their gazes towards the direction where he turned to. There, they saw Courtney standing frozen on the path they walked on like a deer on headlights.

“Um . . .” she trailed off, looking away. ”Rowe told me to bring you something you will need.” She strolled forward and reluctantly placed a leather bag on Corvan’s hands.

Corvan gave her a glance before turning to the item she gave him. He tugged gently on its clasps before pulling on the flap and looking inside. He took a few moments staring at what it could possibly contain, so brief that he didn’t even give the others a chance to see for themselves what Rowe sent over.

Corvan dragged his gaze back towards Courtney, throwing the bag over his shoulder. “Is that all?”

“Well . . . I suppose.” Strands of her hair fell loosely over her face, brushing the tip of her nose. “I’ll be going then. I’ve done what I came for.” She then turned to leave.

“No,” Corvan said after her. “Stay and come with the group.”

“I’d really rather—”

Tamara pulled Courtney beside her, smiling widely at the girl. “You know how much I’ve missed you? Don’t be in such a hurry to leave so soon! I need someone on my side against these four!” she cried. “You won’t leave me here all alone and helpless will you?”

Instead of staying to listen to Tamara’s overdramatic dialogues, Corvan decided to go on ahead. Brindon followed him shortly, but Keelan stood quietly, watching the two girls. Valeriana hesitantly urged her feet forward.

“No, Tamara, I am not—”

“Just as I thought!” the third cut her off. “You really are more kindhearted than you look.”

“What? Tamara! Let me go this instant! I did not say anything about—”

“And here we can now enjoy the beautiful scenery of a city overtaken by demons! A tour of a lifetime you surely wouldn’t want to miss!” she continued. “Valeriana is doing great as the fifth-ranker, but I missed having you around too!” She then waved at Valeriana. “Sorry about that, Val! Love you!”

Valeriana turned to her with her brows raised. “Really?” She rolled her eyes and shook her head, feeling a faint smile appear on her lips.

They finally reached the wrought iron gate. Corvan reached over and pulled it open for the group. The noisy screeching was nerve-grating, to say the least. Going through the gate, Valeriana climbed the stairway ahead, feeling troubled by the suddenness of knowing that Courtney was actually going to tag along.

After finally reaching the top of the stairs, Valeriana stopped short and thought for a moment. Maybe this was a good time to patch things up with the former fifth-ranker.

But how?

Corvan brushed past her, his face nonchalant. But something gleamed in his eyes, something that words would not be able to express.

That was when she realized.

If there was anyone who knew Courtney, it would be the Twelve.

This must be their way of helping the two of them understand each other and solve the issues they were having. Because, even though she acted very badly towards Valeriana and treated her horribly . . . there was no way Courtney could be that evil.

They would know. The whole Twelve would know.

Because, setting aside their differences, they were all friends.

No one said anything about it, but that was a notion that went untold. They must’ve not tried to bring up the topic back then when they were in the academy, but considering the things that have been going on, they decided to do something about it.

Corvan and the others sure had a different way of doing things.

As Valeriana made up her resolve, she took a step forward, determined. Now, the next thing she had to do was think about how she was going to put her plan into action—but first she had to think of a plan.

Having been immersed into deep thought the last minute, Valeriana did not expect the sudden feeling that came over her.

She stopped, startled.

It was as though a ton of bricks fell, followed by a cold pail of water. The suddenness took her aback, causing her face to twist into a look of shock.

“Valeriana?” Tamara stopped beside her, clearly worried. “Something wrong?”

“It suddenly became . . . stronger?”

“What stronger?”

“I don’t know how I’m doing this, but this is a demon’s presence. I’ve been sensing it since we came through the tunnel, but it got stronger.”

“What do you feel?”

“Not too different from what you guys are having,” she muttered.

“Not too different?” Tamara repeated. “You know you’re more sensitive than the rest of us here. We can’t feel what you can feel. So tell us, what is it?”

Instead of answering, Valeriana walked towards one of the blooming trees, feeling compelled to do so. Her attraction toward it resembled a pull from a magnet.

She felt the eyes of her comrades on her as she reached out towards it, letting the tips of her gloved fingers trace the rough bark. In comparison to the ‘sunny’ weather, the tree felt so cold and icy despite the fact that she wasn’t touching it with her bare skin.

“It’s cold,” she said. “Almost like ice.”

“Really?” Keelan made his way towards her and touched it as well. “You’re right.”

She looked around, as she felt the creepy sensation of eyes watching her every move. Her head snapped towards the direction of where she felt it coming from, her suspicion rising. “It’s not like you guys haven’t noticed this yet since it’s a bit too obvious—something’s wrong,” she said.

Keelan suddenly turned serious, shedding his childish self. “The temperature of this tree is far too cold for the current weather.”

“Is this city icy every day? For the whole year ‘round?”

This time, it was Courtney who stepped in. “Four degrees celsius, sixty percent precipitation and forty percent humidity. Wind is generally ten kilometers per hour,” she answered, making Valeriana’s jaw drop. “At least, the last time I visited here.”

“And you knew all of that in one glance?”

“No. I checked the weather report,” she said.

“Oh.”

There was an awkward pause.

“You guys have weather reports?”

“We do.” 

Well, that was a good way to go to make a conversation with a former enemy. Valeriana could feel the reluctance of having a ‘friendly’ interaction coming from both of them, so, feeling uncomfortable herself, she decided to remain quiet.

Corvan walked over to them and bent down, poking the dirt with his finger. Crumbs of soil clung to his skin, and he brushed his thumb and forefinger together, examining it. “Someone’s manipulating the weather around the city—or something of the sort. I’m not sure what.”

“And they’re doing a bad job at it,” Tamara said, joining the group as well.

“I think this tree is trying to tell us something,” Valeriana said. “I mean, are trees normally this cold?”

“Not quite,” Keelan answered.

 “Hey, Valeriana,” Tamara said. “Since you started hearing animals and other things, do you think you can speak to this tree?”

The girl redirected her gaze to Tamara, dubiously eyeing at the redhead with a hint of uncertainty. She glanced between each of her companions, who were in turn giving her expectant looks. “Um . . . I’m not sure, really.”

“Valeriana,” Corvan sighed. “A tree is also a living thing. That means it too has a soul.” He pointed out. “So just give it a try.”

His face said that he was feeling impatient. Corvan started to massage his forehead, trying to relax his facial muscles and straighten the wrinkles in his expression. Tamara and the others stood waiting for the girl, and although Brindon wasn’t saying anything since a while ago, he showed his support by . . . staring? And nodding. Don’t forget nodding.

Valeriana reluctantly turned her back on them, facing the tree she had been feeling a while ago. Exhaling noisily through her nose, she shrugged. “I’ll . . . okay. But don’t blame me later on,” she told them, lacking self-confidence.

It wouldn’t hurt to try.

She reached out to the tree, placing her hand on its bark for the second time. The coldness seeped through the material of her gloves and she stared at the plant hesitantly. A tree was a plant too, right? She took a few seconds trying to think of what she was supposed to do before eventually deciding to speak.

“Er . . . okay, big, beautiful . . . uh . . . wonderful, tall—”

“Just do it!” everyone exclaimed at the same time.

She flinched. “—tree.” She turned back to Corvan and the others, confusion riddling her face. “What should I ask?”

They all sighed. “Valeriana . . .”

“Alright, alright.” She inhaled a great deal of oxygen, turning back to her work. “What is going on in Prelurésia?”

They all waited in anticipation, holding their breaths for an answer.

Valeriana took the time waiting for the tree to answer her question.

“What? Did it say anything?” Corvan asked.

“It said . . .” Valeriana trailed off, her tone grave.

“What?” Keelan eagerly asked.

The girl’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. “Nothing.”

They all groaned and looked away. Even Brindon’s face momentarily twitched with confusion and a hint of letdown.

“You should leave.” A tiny voice came. “It’s not safe.”

They all went still.

It wasn’t the natural tiny voice. It was the kind of tiny voice that came from someone who was stupidly trying to talk in a small, high pitch way. It was somehow annoying and made them all exchange glances. Valeriana perked up and turned to them.

“It talked!” she exclaimed.

“Yes.” Tamara crossed her arms, looking doubtful. “We heard it too.”

“Huh?” She looked back at the tree.

“You’ll only be killed,” the tiny voice told them. “It’s dangerous.”

Keelan started picking his ears, unable to believe what he was hearing. “Am I starting to hear things?”

Brindon wordlessly pointed to the tree.

Courtney squinted. “The tree?”

“What’s with the tree?” Tamara disbelievingly eyed it.

“You idiots. He’s not pointing at the tree.” Corvan walked forward tiredly, as though he was getting tired of all the foolishness—which was actually the case.

The rest watched him move and diverted their gazes towards the direction he was headed. They saw something sticking out from behind the tree—which was actually a part of someone. White fabric that took the shape of someone’s arms.

Valeriana and the others couldn’t help but sigh.

Corvan walked behind the tree and grabbed the hiding person. The first-ranker made no hesitance to harshly take hold of the back of the shirt of the troublemaker and drag him out where everyone else could see him.

It was a man, no older than twenty-five—in human time—perhaps. His ash-colored eyes gleamed with fear and panic. “I’m sorry! Forgive me!” he exclaimed. “I was just trying to help.”

Valeriana raised a brow at the man, her hands resting on both sides of her waist. “What’s up with that stupidity? If you’re trying to help, then why don’t you just come straight out and tell us? Rather than pretending to be a tree,” she said. “You’re making me feel disappointed.”

“Alright, my bad.” He raised his hands up in surrender.

Aside from the ash-colored eyes, he had dirty blond hair. He possessed average looks and typical built of a man around his age. He was clad in a plain, white shirt that had spots of stains and dirt along with some loose, grey pants that was tattered on the edges.

“So, who are you? And what are you doing in this city?”

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