CASeries #2: LEGEND
Chapter 9 ♕ Deiner
Much to Valeriana’s disappointment, Avaro needed to leave. Charles told her that it would be troublesome to have the villagers panic unnecessarily at the sight of the Celestial Beast. All ended well after Valeriana took the time saying her tearful goodbyes to the beast. Avaro had laughed at her childishness, knowing for sure that this meeting wouldn’t be their last.
Their next stop was a place named Deiner. Although it was considerably smaller than West Monte, the spirits of the people residing in it wasn’t at all inferior. Wooden buildings lined the streets—mostly houses and stores for varieties of businesses.
It was a lot quieter than the previous place they went to—possibly because it had gotten really late and people started locking up inside their homes. That or it was because the population of the place was a lot lesser. Perhaps both.
Still, the wind had gotten a lot colder and the evident sound of a buzzing town, although calmer, rang in the ears of the group as soon as they set their foot within the village territory. Eyes seemed to be drawn towards them as they trod through the chilly streets, their feet making crunching noises against the grassy terrain.
Deiner was located among the hills of Eldona, making its atmosphere more like the countryside in comparison to West Monte which stood on a flat terrain and had more developed dirt roads—possibly because of frequent travelers. West Monte was a complete contrast of this peaceful village. Deiner looked like a tranquil paradise barely touched by its residents in exception for the houses they built.
Straight ahead, though, was the biggest of all structures. Tall windows and pillars, wooden wall linings, fairy lamps on the porch, and a spacious balcony at the front. It overlooked the entire village.
“Who lives in the fancy house?” Valeriana asked. “Sure is pretty.”
“It’s Farron Deiner,” the fourth-ranker answered, adjusting the collar of his button-up shirt. He somehow had that twinkle in his eyes Valeriana couldn’t discern the reason for as he continued. “He’s the village chief.”
“Oh, god. So it was this,” Tamara muttered, her voice low enough that nobody else heard. “I can’t believe I’m here again.”
“How did you know?” Valeriana asked him. “Have you been here before?”
“You’re forgetting that Larkovia is my continent,” Charles told her. “I know about all the places in it and the people ruling them since it’s a necessity.”
“Riiiiggghhht. So that includes memorizing the names of the people governing the teeny-tiniest villages? How many are there exactly?”
“There are about two hundred and sixty-three villages and towns, ninety-eight counties, twenty-nine cities, and eight countries. Twenty percent, however, of the lands are unexplored but finding ways to develop these places would be a much later task.”
“And you know each and every one who rules them?” Valeriana gaped.
“Whatever did I say about it being a necessity?”
“I get it,” she said. “So that’s why you knew about the ships.”
“I’ve just received an update about the itinerary like I usually do,” Charles told them. “Our ports carry the weights of trading for different parts of the world. Learning about them—”
“Is a necessity. I know,” Tamara said, patting him on the back. “You seriously try too hard.”
“And I wonder why you should care.” He huffed, rolling his shoulders so that her hand slipped off. “You do not bear the weight of being the heir so you do not know,” he said.
Tamara looked offended and hurt for a moment, but it was gone as fast as it came. Her eyes suddenly hardened and any trace of it went away like gust of wind.
“Valeriana. Are you just going to stand there?” she asked. “They’re already way over there, see?”
Only when Tamara spoke up did she realize she stood there in stupor. She blinked and shot off hurriedly in an attempt to catch up.
“Where are we going?” she inquired, breathing loudly through her mouth. “Where will we be staying?”
Charles never sounded surer of himself. “We’ll be taking what this town has to offer best and that manor has it.”
She looked at the direction Charles was currently eyeing and saw the beautiful house she first noticed when they entered the village. He couldn’t possibly be thinking of entering that place without prior notice and demand rooms where they could stay? But, knowing the man, he probably would. Charles was unexpectedly twisted at times.
“Don’t tell me you’re actually planning on that,” she prodded on, voicing out what everyone else had inside their minds.
“It’s basic courtesy for the village chief to host any visiting nobilities,” he told her. “And company, of course,” he added. “I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to welcome us into his home. Nobody else have enough space to accommodate us all.”
“Can’t we just . . .” Tamara hesitated. “Stay in ordinary lodgings like Valeriana suggested? It’ll be troublesome to draw attention unnecessarily.”
“That’s true,” Lienhard agreed.
“Not to mention we’ll be bothering people,” Valeriana said.
“We’re in my continent, so I do not recommend going against my decisions. Besides,” he said, fixing his glasses with a pause before continuing. “I have a little problem I want to settle once and for all. It’ll be killing two birds with one stone.”
“So you have another motive aside from just finding a place to stay? Is that the reason why we came to this village?” Elfre asked.
“Perhaps.” He smirked.
While they continued their journey towards the beautiful house, the eyes of the residents of the village seemed to latch onto them more and more. The village was small, so they knew every face. The Twelve did not pay any heed to this though, being used to the amount of attention. Despite that, it was another story for Valeriana.
“Aren’t we getting too much attention?” she asked.
“Attention is good,” Raziel bluntly stated.
“For you, maybe,” Genevieve and Zevlin chorused.
The twins and Raziel began to busy themselves debating over some nonsense. Later on, Elfre got dragged into it as well.
Valeriana decided not to interfere, thinking it was best to remain uninvolved. She looked away from them and caught sight of Keelan busily working with the glowing strip around his mouth that, until now, Corvan hadn’t bothered removing. The eleventh-ranker looked like he was standing on the boundary of frustration and hopelessness. Unshed tears brimmed from the corners of his eyes.
She sighed. “Poor Keelan.”
The ever quiet and uncaring Brindon, last ranking member of the Twelve though not the least, came forward and started walking beside Valeriana. He looked at her with a faint trace of sympathy—a very unusual scenario for the usually poker-faced twelfth-ranker.
“Is there anything wrong?”
“Remembered painting,” he said, his tone leveled. “Forgot.”
Valeriana nodded. “That’s true. I guess that with all things that happened, we forgot about it, huh?”
He nodded faintly. “You’ve been busy.”
“I’ll teach you,” he said. “When we get back. If you want.”
“That’ll be very nice.” She smiled. “Thank you.”
There was a moment of silence before Valeriana decided to ask the boy a question, one that she always thought of asking.
“Hey, Brindon,” Valeriana said. “Why are you so . . . apathetic? I saw one of your paintings before. They’re the exact opposite of, well . . . you know.” She then sighed. “I hope you don’t mind me asking.”
“No . . .” He shook his head. “It’s fine. Don’t feel . . . comfortable. Telling people.”
“Right,” she awkwardly replied. “You don’t have to tell me, though.”
Brindon released a very faint version of a sigh that Valeriana almost passed it off as a part of his normal breathing. ”Not everyone had . . . a normal childhood,” Brindon told her, his brown eyes gleaming.
Brindon’s slow way of speaking was eerie, not to mention how often he unnecessarily cut his sentences midway to continue it two seconds later.
“What?” she asked him.
“Because . . . I was once a demon.”
“A-a what?” Valeriana felt too shocked to answer.
She was only hearing him wrong, right?
“Kidding,” he said. Contrary to his words though, there wasn’t any trace of playfulness in his voice. “You believed me.”
How exactly was she not going to believe Brindon? He had that poker-face of his while telling a joke! What kind of answer was he expecting from her?
“Hey, Brindon. Telling that joke again? Don’t expect anyone to laugh when you tell them that.” Zevlin came forward and smacked him good-naturedly on the back. “With that face of yours, practically everyone believed you.”
Brindon showed an unexpectedly playful side to him that moment.
The twelfth’s eyes twinkled. She swore that if he could laugh, he would. “Y-you . . .” She sighed, massaging the bridge of her nose. “Is it possible? To be a demon and come back?”
Zevlin shrugged. “Not that I know of.”
“I request everyone to keep quiet and let me do the talking.” Charles’ voice rang, making everyone within their group to go silent from his request which was more of a command.
“Here we go again . . .” Tamara heaved a deep breath.
Elfre’s hand shot forward and held Raziel’s mouth close to prevent him from further uttering another word. Keelan, his mouth still bound by the glowing strip of light, gave a thumbs up. The twins had sealed their lips, making simultaneous and exaggerated motions of locking them close and throwing an imaginary key away.
Corvan crossed his arms, waiting patiently among the others with a bored but calm face. Tamara did the same as she ascended the steps that led to the front porch of the chief’s home.
It was then that Valeriana realized they arrived in front of the house.
Charles straightened his back and clothes before reaching out and pounding a fist against the mahogany doors. There were movements within the house. The pitter-patter of footsteps beyond the wooden entrance gradually got louder and not long after, the door swung open and a young woman around Valeriana’s age greeted them.
At the sight of Charles, her cheeks reddened. A faint gasp escaped her lips before she hastily bent at the waist to greet him.
“M-milord!” she exclaimed. “What bid you to visit us unannounced?” she asked.
“Greetings, Tabina,” he answered. “Raise your head.”
He knew them. No wonder he was insistent on intruding.
“He should’ve just told us,” Genevieve whispered, echoing everyone else’s thoughts.
Valeriana raised a brow while the girl shyly erected herself but kept her gaze down. Her eyes were strictly trained to the shoes peaking from under her dress as if they were the most interesting things. She had on a white, wool surcoat over a maroon chainse.
“I-I have not seen you since you started attending the academy,” she told him. She looked past Charles and saw the others patiently waiting behind him. “Where are my manners? Please do come in!” She backpedaled to make way for them to enter.
Charles unhesitatingly made his way inside and the rest followed him.
“I hope you do not mind me and my companions’ intrusion,” he said. “We happened to come by and we were wondering if you have vacant rooms for all of us to stay in.”
“Not at all! I’ll go and help prepare your bedrooms right away! We only have about four guest rooms, though. So some of you need to share.”
“We do not mind at all.”
“Pardon me for asking, though,” she said. “But who are your companions?”
“I have brought the entirety of the Celestial Twelve with me,” he answered.
“T-the . . .” She gulped nervously, glancing between everyone. “C-Celestial T-Twelve? W-what an h-honor.”
Tabina backed away, trembling while she covered her mouth with her hands as if to prevent herself from screaming. “I-I’m s-sorry! I-I’ll call my e-elder b-brother to assist a-all of you instead!” With that, she ran away and passed through the door right ahead of them that led to who-knows-what.
“What’s with her?” Elfre asked. “Do we look that scary?”
“Should I have not told the truth?” Charles mulled, rubbing his chin. “I should’ve taken into consideration the fact that Tabina had low confidence in facing people she deems to be . . . superior.”
“She surely had no problem facing you,” Tamara pointed out.
“Dunno.” Valeriana shrugged.
“You left our guests waiting by the hall?” a voice echoed from afar. “Tabina, that’s seriously impudent of you.”
“About time,” Charles muttered.
Valeriana took the opportunity to survey her surroundings. The walls were paneled with wooden linings in which beautiful paintings with varying sizes hung. Illumination was provided by wall lights—flickering candles with glass-casing. The floor was of bare mahogany tiles, illustrating repetitive patterns of curved and straight lines. Occasionally, she would also see portraits of different people whose faces she was unfamiliar with.
The footsteps came to a halt behind the door Tabina previously ran through and, not long after, it opened. A man donned in a long, fancy coat that went halfway towards his knees appeared. His sleeves were cuffed and loose, showing the undershirt he had underneath. Partnered with this were his knee breeches that seemed strikingly similar to Victorian ones and boots that reached below his knees.
What made Valeriana and the other girls from within the group hush was the fact that he was quite charming. Soft, brown curls fell on his forehead, reaching about an inch past his neck. His eyes were a vibrant shade of olive-green and his skin quite dark.
Tabina had the exact same characteristics when it came to the hair and eyes. The resemblance between them was a proof of the same blood they shared. The man didn’t seem to be that old at all.
“Charles! Brother!” He laughed, extending an arm forward and hooking it around the fourth-ranker. “And you brought friends as well, I see.” He nodded towards the others good-naturedly. “To what do I owe the honor? I haven’t seen you since you left for the academy seven years ago!”
“Seven years . . .” Valeriana trailed off. She nudged Genevieve who stood beside her quietly. “Um . . . how old is Charles, exactly?”
“Well . . . about forty-four or forty-five years old, I guess,” she replied. “Why?”
“Forty-four divided by two is twenty-two, which makes that his equivalent age in human years.” She counted with her fingers. “Shocking,” Valeriana said. “For some reason, Charles looks much older than that.”
“Probably from the stress.” Genevieve chuckled. “Or because he’s actually very mature.”
“I guess so,” she said. “How old are you and Zevlin?”
“Oh, we’re forty!” Genevieve answered.
“Forty? Twenty? Three years older than me?” She gaped. “I thought you were supposed to join the academy when you’re sixteen—I mean, thirty-two—or something!”
“You can join when you’re thirty-two or older, silly.” The ninth-ranker chuckled. “It all depends when you decide and when you get accepted. Remember that guy in our class named Wagner? He’s actually already fifty-eight.”
“I’m getting confused by the double the age of humans, divide Valemnian’s by two thing! Don’t you have . . . er . . . elementary level? Kindergarten? High School? I never really thought about the educational system of this world yet.”
“I don’t think I have heard of those.”
“Then how do you guys learn?”
“All kids are taught basic skills like reading and writing at home. There is also a small school for children in every villages and towns that teaches things like arithmetic. Education is mostly optional. If you want a job, you try to get apprenticeship from the profession you’re looking to enter,” she thoughtfully answered. “We only go to the academy when we decide that we want to serve high positions in the government and such.”
“Really? Back in my world, you’re required to have a very high level of education in order to survive. Children are required to start schooling at the age of five or six—which is roughly ten or twelve in Valemnian years.” She sighed. “But you guys are pretty lax, huh?”
“Well, I guess so.” She shrugged. “But you’ll be surprised to know that the rate of illiteracy in this world is very low! And meeting a person who cannot read and write is very rare.” Genevieve smiled and winked at the girl.
“That’s great.” She nodded. “I wish it’s the same in my world.”
After being lost in their own conversation for a moment, Valeriana realized that Charles had begun presenting everyone to the man. Rowe finished with a brief introduction and a manly handshake, leaving the man with an awestruck expression as they became acquainted. As usual, the second-ranker looked humble and down-to-earth.
Next was Tamara who didn’t allow a kiss on the back of her hand. Instead, she strongly gripped the man’s fingers within a deathly handshake—which made him cringe.
“Tamara Silver.” The girl flashed him a smile. “Third-ranker. I hope you remember me.”
The moment she released his fingers, it was already red. “Ooh, yes, how can I forget?” He breathed. “You . . . have a very strong grip as usual, milady.”
“Well, thank you.”
“As usual, you’re as fiery as your red hair.” He chuckled. “So you’re third, Charles is fourth. Who is the fifth, then?”
“That would be her.” Tamara nodded towards Valeriana, who Genevieve nudged forward playfully.
She suddenly felt conscious. She was covered in filth and wasn’t at all presentable—like she rolled on dirt after a fierce battle with some kind of wild animal. Her clothes needed washing, not to mention that there was muck in her hair. The strands needed untangling too!
“Uh . . . nice to meet you,” she said, extending her good and uninjured hand forward for a handshake. She felt embarrassed enough.
“I do hope you don’t crush my fingers as well.” He chuckled, gingerly taking Valeriana’s hand into his. He attempted to kiss her knuckles but Valeriana kept a firm grip on his hands and started shaking it. He looked beyond bewildered.
“A handshake is fine, thanks,” she told him.