CASeries #2: LEGEND
Chapter 23 ♕ Change of Season
“My name is Aden,” said the ‘tree-man’—which Valeriana insisted on calling him—as he scratched the back of his head, stumbling slightly over his words as he talked. “I’m sorry if my approach was not to your liking, but I meant what I said.” He looked between each of them, intimidated by the looks they were giving him.
“We’re here to help retake your city of infested demons, shouldn’t you be welcoming us?” Tamara asked him.
“That’s the problem.” Aden answered, shaking his head at the idea. “I don’t think that you’re welcome here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Loquin has officially closed itself off from the outside world. It proclaimed the demand for its isolation. No one gets in, no one gets out,” he told them, sighing. “But I don’t think the higher family understands the intentions of the current lady.”
“Asthore, you mean?” Courtney’s brows puckered as she allowed the name to roll off her tongue. “Why would she do that?”
He gave them a look of disappointment and distraught. “I think she’s somehow being brainwashed. After her father’s death, she secluded herself within the family manor. Recently, though, she came out of her shell and suddenly proclaimed all that nonsense. The weather around the city had been . . . moody, somewhat.”
“I think that a demon’s somehow taking advantage of her vulnerability with her current state.” Tamara thoughtfully concluded. “But, you know what? I think I know what Charles will say. If you want to take over a city, start with the ruler. You don’t need hordes of demons and engage in battle to do so. Everything else will simply fall into place.”
“Hey,” Keelan chuckled, pointing out something he thought was amusing. “You’re doing your job!”
“Shut up, ya good-for-nothing moron!” Tamara yelled at him, threatening to punch him with her balled fist.
Brindon came between them and separated the two. “Stop.”
Valeriana frowned and grabbed Tamara by the arm. “Come on, you guys. We’re discussing something important here.”
“Have you heard of a demon staying by the lady’s side? Or anything at all?” Corvan inquired, ignoring the exchange between the others.
“Hey!” Courtney exclaimed angrily from the background. “Tamara!”
Corvan, agitated by their behavior, turned and scolded everyone once and for all. “Calm yourselves! Enough with those childish antics!”
Tamara huffed, but backed down nevertheless. Everyone else was able to rest easy, but the ever mischievous Keelan was snickering to himself.
Aden looked at each of them, a crease appearing between his brows. Never minding the fact that they all possessed eccentric personalities, they still managed to go past the Death Tunnel. Although he had minor doubts about trusting them about the information they were demanding, he clearly had no other choice.
The boy sighed, pausing and blinking as he searched his memory. “Well . . .” he muttered. “It was during the day of the black snow. Instead of the usual ‘assistant’, there was another person standing by Lady Asthore’s side.”
“I see. Anything else about this person you speak of?”
“He’s exceptionally good at what he does.” Aden shrugged. “But that’s just about what I know.”
“What do we do, then?” Valeriana asked, looking up at the first-ranker.
“We have to go to the family manor.” Courtney said, looking concerned.
“No,” Corvan replied, his voice firm. “We stick with the plan. We’ll go through the city to the direction of the park and meet with the others. We aren’t straying from our path and we aren’t going to move without informing everyone else. If we have to visit the family manor, we’ll do it right afterwards.”
“I agree with Corvan,” Tamara said.
Aden shook his head. “Lady Asthore is not an easy person to please. She changes attitude very easily. If one thing does not bend to her will as she wants it to or if something does not go according to her plans, she’ll have it destroyed without any second thoughts. Right now, the state of the city is critical and unstable. If the people were to go against the lady’s wishes, god knows what she’ll do.”
“She sounds like a brat,” Tamara commented. “A spoiled brat. I’m getting a bad feeling.”
“I know Asthore personally.” Courtney said. “We played together as children.”
At this statement, Aden stared at the former fifth with eyes wide open, seeming taken aback by the information that she gave them.
“You are . . . aren’t you . . . don’t tell me!”
Courtney raised a brow but held her head up higher as she dramatically introduced herself—even Valeriana had goosebumps. “Second daughter of the Evereeshan nobles. I am called Courtney.”
“So it is . . .” Aden muttered, the look in his eyes making it seem as though his soul had left his body.
“So, is she?”
Courtney looked at Tamara. “Pardon me?”
“Is she a brat?”
“Sadly, yes. I remember saying she was unfit to rule because of her selfish attitude. But we’re close friends.” Courtney took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “She’s very sensitive and prideful. Even my father deemed her unworthy of inheriting the position. I was worried for her the past few weeks after I heard that Loquin was under the siege of demons a little bit after the death of Lord Caleb. I never realized that it was she herself who closed it off from the world.”
“This is a big problem,” Corvan told himself. “I do not think the others are aware of this.” The first-ranker then turned to Tamara in all seriousness. “Tamara, I cannot summon Avaro as there’s a possibility that he—”
Before he could even finish, Tamara turned her back on him and said, “I’m on it.”
Valeriana jumped in excitement. “I finally get to see Tamara’s familiar!” she exclaimed. “What’s her name?”
The third-ranker flashed her a big, smug grin. “Her name’s Iolani.”
“Ee-yoo . . . huh?”
“Iolani.” Tamara repeated.
Valeriana eagerly watched Tamara perform the needed ‘ritual’ to summon Iolani. A burst of water seemed to have materialized from the ground and took the form of a bird. The bird-shaped blob of water flapped its wings and sprinkled droplets in all direction. It almost seemed to be trying to get the coat of water out of its feathers.
When all was well, a fiery, red hawk took its place on Tamara shoulders, its majestic wings folded on its side. ‘Thou hast summoned me, kouill?’
“I told you to stop calling me that.” Tamara frowned. “It sounds so much like ‘quill’ that it’s ridiculous.”
Valeriana’s brows perked curiously. “Do all familiars have something they call their contractors? I mean, Avaro has ham jar and you have quill.”
Hearing her pronounce the words wrong made Corvan eye her inquiringly.
The hawk’s sharp eyes turned towards her. ‘’Tis kouill.’ She strictly corrected. ‘Do pronounce it properly! Thou shalt not follow Tamara’s horrible example.’
She held her hands up in apology. “Right. Sorry.”
It peered curiously at her face. ‘So tell me, thou art Valeriana?’
“That’s me. I guess,” she said, feeling uncomfortable with the scrutiny of Tamara’s familiar.
The third-ranker grabbed the beak of Iolani and forced her to stare into her eyes. “Hey! I have a job for you to do! Don’t go ignoring me.”
Iolani began to rebelliously flap her gigantic wings that Tamara leaned her head back as she was getting slapped on the face. ‘Thou hast to learn to respect this one more! Now let go!’
“Alright! Now stop flapping around!” Once the familiar did as she was told, Tamara let go. “Yo, Corvan, what’s the message?”
“Learn to blend in more as the current state of the city is very chaotic.”
Tree Man then added, “Anyone well-dressed will sure have a hard time getting through.”
“That and make sure to inform Charles and Rowe that the plan still goes. We meet at the park.”
Iolani lifted herself up in the air. ‘Thou canst count on me.’
In order to deliver the message, Iolani would have to communicate with the other familiars. The others only hoped that nothing would go wrong.
With that, she disappeared from their line of view.
“Wait. Who are you people anyway?”
Valeriana, who previously watched Iolani disappear from afar, raised a brow at Aden. She didn’t mean to look as though she was bragging with her actions. If ever, she was confused knowing that someone didn’t recognize the Celestial Twelve—if not her, then the rest of the rankers.
Tamara cracked up at the question.
“Celestial Circle.” Brindon simply told him, letting the term roll out of his tongue smoothly without speaking any other words aside from it.
“I hope you heard of Celeste Academy.” Keelan grinned widely as he watched Aden’s face break into confusion, then realization, bewilderment, and suddenly disbelief.
“Haha! Look at his face!” Tamara exclaimed. She reached out and placed her arm around Keelan, pulling him towards her while laughing loudly. “Right? Right?!”
“Alright, that’s enough. Tell us what we’re supposed to do.”
“W-well, maybe w-we should start by removing those winter clothing?” He suggested, looking unsure of what he was saying.
Nevertheless, Corvan and the others obliged.
Before they could even adjust themselves to the sudden change in season—considering they just went through a big hell’s storm of snow, the plants began suddenly wilting to the point that the leaves from the trees started to fall slowly. It was almost like speedily watching spring change into autumn.
Valeriana shivered, feeling uncomfortable when the wind brushed her cheeks. She looked around and felt the same boding sensation from before disturbingly reaching her senses. Taking a deep, calming breath, she exhaled.
“What’s going on?” They asked, startled by the suddenness.
Aden held out a hand and caught a leaf before it fell. “The season’s changing.”
“Has this happened before?” Corvan asked.
“Yes.” He nodded. “The civilians were quite dumbstruck to have a change in season, since it’s just supposed to be snowy all the time. That’s what you get for living in Prelurésia. We’re expecting some kind of pattern, but it changes without warning. This spring lasted for almost two weeks, which is the longest by far.”
“How long did the other seasons last?”
“Mostly a day or two. The shortest was a few hours.”
Courtney frowned. “This is not supposed to be how things are.”
“We need to figure out how the change occurs and put a stop to it,” Corvan said. “That’s what we came here for.”
“Charles probably has some ideas already.” Keelan nodded. “Anyone else here has one?”
“Um . . . unfortunately for that, no,” Tamara answered.
“Great.” Valeriana sighed, but started shivering again. Keelan looked her way with a hint of concern as she spoke. “What are we supposed to do, then?”
“How about coming with me?”
The group turned to meet the owner of the voice and met black eyes with their own. He came with such stealth they didn’t even notice him appear—Valeriana, on the other hand, was shaking like a leaf. The onslaught of demonic presence made her feel suffocated.
Her comrades drew their weapons and took on a defensive stance.
“To think that the enemy himself would welcome his foes,” Corvan started. “So you finally showed yourself, demon?”
Valeriana could not believe it.
A real demon.
However, unlike what she was used to, this one had a human form. Landing her blue eyes on his eerie figure, every nerve in Valeriana’s body went haywire. It was an unpleasant feeling thrumming inside her, making her squirm from where she stood in the discomfort. It was as though this man emitted an air around him that warded her off. She wanted to put some distance between them so badly that she unconsciously took numerous steps back.
This was different from the incident with the Loupe Garou.
“Hey. Don’t tell me you’re scared.” It was Courtney who held her in place, her hands both on her shoulders. “That’s the least I expect from someone like you.”
The girl looked up, her features showing no restraint to display what she was feeling. In Courtney’s piercing eyes, she caught a small glimpse of her pale face as though it was drained of blood. It probably wasn’t a good idea to show weakness to her former rival, so she looked down and broke their staring contest, trying to recover her composure.
“Valeriana, get a hold of yourself,” Tamara told her without looking her way, her hackles rising. “If you can’t handle his presence, then you better just stay back.”
Those words stung.
Being the weakest within the group made her mad at herself. She looked guiltily between all of her comrades and took a deep breath, trying to steady herself. The least she could do was not make them worry—if they, by any chance, were feeling that way.
“I’m sorry,” Valeriana whispered. “I guess I was a little bit . . . shaken.”
“You really have to get that sensitivity of yours under control Valeriana.” Keelan sighed as he advised her. “Otherwise it’ll be a disadvantage rather an advantage.”
“A disadvantage rather than an advantage,” she muttered. “I did try to talk to my PC instructor about training my sensitivity. I haven’t gotten a response from her up until now.” She shook her head dismissively, trying to block out the discomfort.
“You do have a very cordial welcome. Your undead minions gave us quite the hospitality,” Corvan continued, causing Valeriana to snap her attention back to the present.
“Yes, my . . . guards have done their job with the reception—though quite lacking,” he answered, flashing his sharp teeth at him in a coy grin. “I suppose it wasn’t enough for you guests to be driven off. On what premises have you come to disturb the peacefulness of this city?”
“Peacefulness? How laughable!” Courtney spat.
“Courtney, stand down.” Corvan reprimanded.
Obsidian orbs snapped to the former fifth. “Ah, the Evereeshan second princess. Lady Asthore sends her regards.”
Courtney continued, ignoring him. “What have you done to Asthore?”
“I have done but nothing but make her happy,” he answered. “Now, where was I? Ah, yes. Why don’t you come with me?”
“And why do you think we should?” Corvan asked.
“Because Lady Asthore is waiting.” He smiled, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. The way the corners of his lips turned up felt mocking that Corvan couldn’t help but grit his teeth.
“I don’t know what you’re planning but . . .” Corvan took confident strides towards the demon before pointing his sword at him. “I’m not buying it.”
“I knew this wouldn’t be easy, but I’m in quite in a hurry, you see. Lady Asthore is not a patient person, and I approximately have about ten minutes before I hear her screaming from a mile away.” He pulled on the sleeves of his immaculate top, rolling them up to his elbows.
“Right. A spoiled brat.” Tamara shook her head.
“Enough with the chitchat. It’s getting rather tiring.” He sighed. “You.” He pointed at Corvan. “Let me exchange a few blows with you. One-on-one. I’ve heard of your name. Quite an revered prodigy you are.”
“Is this a good idea?” Valeriana asked, not trusting the demon one bit.
Corvan stepped forward wordlessly and brandished his weapon.
“Let’s give him what he wants,” Tamara said, pushing everyone back. While Courtney showed mild reluctance, she obeyed.
“Wait. Shouldn’t we help him?” the fifth ranker asked, confused.
“Stay back,” Corvan told them, mainly to Valeriana.
“Are you serious? You can’t take him on alone!”
The glare sent her way made her shut up.
“I’ll send the signal,” Brindon said, picking up a stray rock from somewhere before throwing it towards the sky in a powerful motion. Valeriana was unsure of his element at first as she watched the rock reach the skies to the point that it disappeared. It wasn’t a few seconds later that she heard a huge explosion, startling her.
“What the heck just happened?” she inquired, staring at the sky. “Don’t tell me that rock was actually a grenade or something.”
“It’s not,” Brindon answered.
Keelan was immediately there to explain. “Brindon is one of my people!” He proudly stated. “He’s an earth like me. By putting pressure on that rock, he made it release waves of sound that can be heard from a mile away. It’s not a big deal, really.”
The demon ran for Corvan head on. The blur Valeriana saw from the corner of her eyes pulled her attention. Focusing her vision on the scene before her, she felt her jaw dropping as she saw the demon attack.
“How troublesome,” the demon muttered, pulling out two, hidden daggers under his shirt and skillfully positioning them inside both of his hands so that they angled outwards in either side. He held the hilt within his fists as though he was going to stab someone—and the look in his eyes made him scarier.
“Hey, I think—” Valeriana started.
“No. I can see the wheels turning in your head. No.” Tamara flat-out refused. “Have some trust in Corvan.” The look on her face was complacent, as though it wasn’t actually a big deal. “If he ever does something, we’re all here to take his head.”
Still, Valeriana didn’t feel the least comforted by what she just said.
The blades of his daggers had about a fourth of the size of his whole arm. They didn’t look that much intimidating but the way he held it made those two weapons look far more dangerous. Roughly speaking, Corvan was the most talented fighter, but that didn’t make him immune to loss or injuries.
Corvan merely scoffed and readied himself for the incoming blow.
“Well, I’m finally gonna see him fight,” Valeriana whispered.
“Then, sit back and enjoy the show. Rest assured, if that demon ever tries something fishy, we’ll be alert and ready.”
When a sharp clang reached their ears, Valeriana cringed. Eyes wide, she watched Corvan skillfully parry the attack and counter it with a sharp swing of his own. Soon they were exchanging blows, throwing in feints and attacks while deftly shifting their bodies to accommodate the moves they made. She didn’t even have the time to register what they were doing as they were moving too fast for her own eyes.
Her jaws fell. “They’re a blur.”
Corvan spun, his hair wildly flying behind him as he landed a quick strike against knives of his opponent and they paused, pressing some pressure into their weapons in a test of strength. The demon had his blades crossed in front of him, slowly being pushed back by Corvan.
“Ok . . . that is a bit impressive,” Valeriana said.
“Told ya.” Tamara nudged her side with her elbow. “With a few arrangements, Corvan is going to skip to his fourth year—at least, that’s what I heard. He’s far too advanced for his level, anyway.”
“I’ve never heard of that!” she exclaimed, pouting. “Well, I guess he deserves it.”
“It’s not final yet. It’s just rumors,” she replied, chuckling. She then turned back to the fight, a thoughtful look latching to her face. “That demon got skill, too.”
“Mm.” The demon’s lips twisted as he exerted inhuman force, causing Corvan to stumble back. “I have less than eight minutes to wrap this up before milady starts screaming,” he muttered. “I originally didn’t come here for a fight,” he said. “But I was curious what it is about you that got milady enamored.”
At his statement, crease gathered between Corvan’s brows and his eyes narrowed ever so lightly at the demon. Even the others looked confused at his words. “What in the world do you mean?”
“You’ve got good looks,” he said, his eyes scrutinizing. “Fairly skilled in combat. There’s still something I don’t quite understand. But I assume I don’t have the time to waste, so perhaps I’ll find out later.”
Corvan looked at him, noticing the way his black eyes burned with resentment and utter hatred while they stared at each other. Instead of letting himself get distracted, he decided to focus on the matter at hand and tightened his grip around his sword. This demon wasn’t an easy opponent. He posed a real challenge.
He charged forward once more and swung both knives towards Corvan which the latter evaded easily, only that it came with something he didn’t quite expect. Valeriana, as well, flinched by the sudden eruption of wild demonic energy that sent every single hair in her body standing. Goosebumps trailed her skin and shivers racked her body, making her eyes go wide.
The air thickened.
“T-that’s . . .”
“I know. I can feel it too because of the intensity. I don’t think we should continue exposing ourselves to this energy. It might overwhelm us,” Tamara muttered. “And being overwhelmed is never a good thing, especially for you lowers years.”
To their horror, something akin to a dark mist appeared and wrapped around them like tentacles—blurring their sight.
The demon gave Tamara a knowing glance and smiled deviously. This made the third-ranker doubt how the wheels in his head were turning.
“Guys, we’ve got to get out—” Tamara started, as though suddenly being shot with lightning.
“The world!” Keelan muttered, shaking his head as though trying to snap sense into himself. “Why is everything suddenly . . . spinning?”
Valeriana looked between her comrades inquiringly, wondering what in the world was going on. “Hey, you guys? What’s up?”
It wasn’t only Keelan who seemed to be feeling that way. Courtney and the others as well seemed suddenly shaken, blinking distractedly and unsteadily vacillating on their feet.
Brindon suddenly dropped without any prior notice, startling Courtney. “What in the name of—Brindon! Brindon!” She knelt beside him and tried shaking him.
Tamara looked between her comrades and crouched to feel Brindon’s pulse. “This isn’t good.”
“What the heck is going on?” Courtney exclaimed. Drawing her own weapon, she charged forward, but stumbled weakly on her feet before she could reach him.
Corvan himself staggered. “You . . . bastard!”
“What I think I must.”
“I shouldn’t have played fair from the start either,” he spat. With a roar, flames coated the blade of his weapon and he charged forward. “Do you think you can take down the Celestial Twelve so easily?”
“How astonishing,” he said. “Seeing you still be able to have this much strength. I wonder how long you’ll last.”
Tamara growled as she watched. She fired the distress signal to the sky, hoping the others received the message before she drew twin blades and ran ahead for the demon.
Valeriana wasn’t sure what kind of action she should take, seeing everybody else within her team laying weakened on the ground. Their eyes looked heavy, their movements languorous. The demonic aura still assaulted her from all sides, poking at her skin like sharp needles.
“Guys . . .” She poked Keelan with her foot. He couldn’t be dead!
“Hey! Psst!” a voice called. “Come here! Hurry! Before it’s too late!”
She turned sharply towards the direction of the call. It was Aden. He was peeking from behind the tree, his eyes dropping unsteadily.
“What are you—” She didn’t have time to finish her sentence as he suddenly pulled her arm and dragged her away.
Aden forcefully pulled her with him, running away from the scene while the demon was distracted fighting off Corvan. The boy snuck glances over his shoulder as he continued to tread the direction both of them were pursuing.
“Hey! Aden! What in the world are you doing?” She hissed at him, trying to wrench her arm out of his grip. “Were you hiding all this time?”
“We have to get away from here now. Or else—”
They both paused behind a certain tree and saw the others collapsing to the floor. Tamara’s face when she was falling asleep was hilarious that Valeriana had to fight back a giggle, but realizing the situation made her gasp.
“Why are they—”
“I’ll explain later. At least I have to get one of you away! Come on!”
Valeriana looked back and saw Corvan stumbling on his feet, doubling over as the demon landed a hard punch to his gut. He was probably feeling it too, as she doubted that he would let his enemy land a punch on him if he was well. She inwardly cursed the demon for playing so low, concern bubbling inside her as she watched the poor guy land in a helpless heap on the ground.
“No.” The words rolled off her tongue. “Corv—”
She was about to yell his name but Aden muffled her voice with his hand and pulled her towards the nearest tree, forcing her to keep quiet as the demon turned to their direction. His black eyes held suspicion as his gaze swept through the area.
It didn’t even occur to Valeriana that she was about to yell out his name. Aden shushed her quietly, looking panicked as she struggled.
“Keep it down for Prelure’s sake!” He whisper-yelled, pressing more pressure onto her mouth. “He’ll hear us.”
And with that, they both snuck away, hoping a certain demon didn’t see them.