CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Five: Haunted Mansion
Valeriana wanted to get Seraphina out of her ridiculous attire. She was sure she had worn this for a few days now, especially with the spots of stains and the unpleasant smell that was wafting off her. Even so, her suggestions were rebuffed. The woman was more focused on finding the demons she spoke of.
As much as she hated to say it, this woman was the epitome of dedication.
They had walked from Mass-av to the outskirts of the Emerald Necklace. By then, Valeriana had thought up of several places possible; hospitals, schools, and community spots in general. However, her conclusions were too vague and would take more than a week to check out. She didn’t want to spend her entire summer vacation scouring the streets of Massachusetts with a strange woman to slay demons. Aside from it being too dangerous, it wasn’t her type of hobby.
“I envy this world,” Seraphina said as she observed her surroundings. “It seems rather peaceful.”
“Rather peaceful,” Valeriana repeated. “But we fight amongst ourselves for territory and resources. The conflict is still there, trust me. It just depends on what sort of peacefulness you’re considering.”
“I see. Like a peaceful ocean but with a turmoil within,” she said. “Those words of yours are very wise.” Seraphina gave her a look of praise and nodded once.
“They’re my father’s,” she replied, bringing out her battered phone and texting her mother. She had a lot of explaining to do when she arrived home so she wanted to stall as much as possible.
Several missed calls and a couple of voice mails. Sighing, she put it to silent mode and cursed inwardly. She very well knew what she had done.
“You said you were with your family during that lunch,” said Seraphina. “Where is your father?”
“He passed away two years ago,” she stated in a low voice.
The woman was silent for a few moments. “I apologize. That was insensitive.”
“It’s fine . . .” she trailed off as she tucked the phone into her pocket.
A small girl wearing pigtails passed by, holding an ice cream with her left hand while gripping her mother’s fingers in the other. Seraphina’s eyes followed the food she was licking so happily, her brows knitting while a hint of curiosity and wonder gleamed in her cerulean blue eyes.
Valeriana saw this and thought for a moment. She still had a couple of dollars in her pocket.
“Have you had any ice cream before?” she asked.
“We can drop by the ice cream shop and buy you one. My treat.” Valeriana grabbed Seraphina by the wrist and dragged her towards the nearby ice cream parlor.
“You know you want to,” she retorted.
Despite her protests, the girl managed to pull her into a shop anyway and bought her a single scoop in a cone. Seraphina’s eyes twinkled as she gazed at the treat she was given, almost like a child granted a whole jar of cookies. Valeriana reckoned they had none of this wherever she came from.
“Do you not want any?” Seraphina asked, offering her ice cream to Valeriana.
“No. I’m not really fond of sweets.”
They hurried on and left the shop the moment the purchase was made.
“We need an itinerary,” Valeriana said, watching Seraphina nibble on the cone. “But checking out all these places will take time. How many demons are you after? Do they have any personal preferences and nature or whatsoever?”
“The last batch that descended were composed of fifty-one demons. I’ve exterminated over forty-two.”
“Descended?” she repeated. “What do you mean by that?”
“Do you really want to know?” Seraphina asked, pausing.
Valeriana crossed her arms and sighed. “I’m already in on it. There’s no use keeping it from me, is there?”
“This matter is rather complicated.” Seraphina looked thoughtful. “I would not prefer to drag you in too much since I fear for your safety. However, I promise to tell you to make you understand. Just help me find those demons first.”
Valeriana rolled her shoulders. “Fine, let’s go.”
They went to take a bus to a random part of the city and got off on a whim. They were wandering around aimlessly with no direction. If they continued this way, they wouldn’t have anything to start with. Valeriana was not very motivated at the moment.
It was already around three in the afternoon as they visited places after places—hospitals, even Harvard Law. They came off empty-handed in the end.
“To be honest, during our last encounter, I was rather dumbfounded,” the woman confessed as they walked. “There have been no instances of a witness during these times, mostly because humans cannot see demons.”
“Demons are not ordinary beings. Humans are not granted the sight to see them. You are an unusual case.”
“Wait, wait.” She held up her hand. “You’re saying . . .”
“Yes,” Seraphina replied. “It has been so long ever since someone opened the gates. Normally, it would be shut tight. But the kingdom is currently suffering for reasons concerning the royal family, hence, our slip.”
“I can’t follow.”
“I come from Valemnia,” she said. “It is an alternate world, a dimension, a reality . . . whatever you prefer.”
Valeriana was quiet as the truth was somewhat hard to digest. Seraphina did not speak anymore. This woman did not seem the type to lie. Aside from that, she carried herself in an entirely different manner. From the clothes down to the air she had . . . she obviously wasn’t lying.
“Is that true?” she said.
“I’m not one to lie.”
They rounded a corner and strolled down the sidewalk for a few moments. People stared at Seraphina as they passed, but did not say anything. Instances like these were not very unusual. Boston has hosted many events with regards to cosplaying. Valeriana had been to some herself, accompanying Jareth.
“Valeriana,” Seraphina said as she stopped.
The look on her face was grave as she examined the horror house across the street. Valeriana halted a few steps ahead, diverting her gaze to where the woman was looking. Aside from a chill down her back, nothing was extraordinary about the place.
“What is it?”
“Do you mind if we scope out this place?” she suggested.
“Yeah, sure.” Valeriana nodded.
She had no reason to refuse. It was only a matter of crossing the street, anyhow. After finding the crossing lane, they walked a small length until they finally got to the entrance.
The front yard was full of weeds and patches of wilted grass. The wooden fence did not look as though it would be able to hold on much longer, creaking and cracking at many points. The gate needed to be oiled and the lopsided sign had creepy, crooked letters carved on its surface.
“Okay . . . this is pretty convincing,” Valeriana muttered. “I heard this was the new horror house attraction they put up recently, but for the last few weeks, people had gone missing when they went inside. People say it’s a rumor to draw in more visitors.”
On the other hand, the house itself was decrepit. The walls had gigantic holes that one could see the inside. The windows hang on their hinges and the paint chipped off.
Valeriana felt the hair on the back of her neck rising as a dark figure passed by the window. “That’s just . . . I don’t think I can go in there. I’m already scared just by standing outside.”
Seraphina dauntlessly walked through the gates.
“Hey!” Valeriana ran forward and caught up. “Wait a moment! We have to wait in line!”
They both stopped before a queue of people by the entrance.
“This is still a horror house, so we have to wait to get in and pay the fee.”
“I don’t think I can wait at all,” Seraphina answered.
With that said, she pushed past the people waiting for their turn at the entrance. They reacted harshly, complaining about how they waited for hours to get where they were. However, their whines fell on deaf ears as Seraphina proceeded calmly without looking back. Valeriana could only walk after her, feeling embarrassed and uncertain.
“Seraphina!” she whispered loudly. “Hey!”
When they were right in front of the door, a man stepped on their way. “I’m sorry. Do you—”
The piercing gaze the woman shot his way made him shut his mouth and back off. With a slight push, they brushed past him and walked into the horror house without any trouble.
Valeriana looked back and saw the man helplessly standing in the entrance, scratching his head. He muttered several things under his breath, such as being fired, so she took out a couple of dollars from her pocket and shoved it into the hands of the guy. That exhausted the last of her money, but she still had a couple of dollars to spare for a cab.
“Keep the change.”
“This isn’t even—” He shook his head.
Seraphina swept aside the black, silky curtains and entered. Valeriana had to lift her leg as there was a hump. While her companion looked unperturbed, Valeriana was already regretting ever going in.
They stepped into a dark, abandoned hallway. The quietness made their steps echo eerily. The atmosphere and silence felt unnerving.
“Hey! Wait for me!” Valeriana exclaimed.
Seraphina had her hands around the hilt of her sheathed sword—a weapon that fortunately nobody noticed—and was bent slightly on a pose that signaled her readiness for any kind of attack.
“Valeriana, if you see something strange, alert me immediately.”
“B-but, how am I supposed to know? There are all sorts of scary things in here.”
“We should check this door.” Seraphina walked towards the door to their right and placed a hand on the knob.
“W-wait, I don’t think you should.”
The lady slowly pushed the door open, letting it hit the wall.
“Holy mother of—” Valeriana broke into a loud scream.
On the couch was a dying woman covered in her own blood. Crimson had dried off around her mouth and even more seeped through her painted lips. There was another character in the scene, feeding on the innards of her open stomach. The monster’s appearance was barbaric, with a pointed set of teeth stained with blood and bits of flesh falling from his mouth.
“H-help . . . me . . .” The woman reached out to them.
When the monster saw both girls, its blood red eyes glistened with bloodthirstiness and started running for the two. Valeriana jumped from where she stood and grabbed the knob instinctively while Seraphina drew her weapon. With a loud bang, she shut the door close and took off running with the woman in tow.
Her heart was beating so fast it felt like it would burst from her chest. Her hands, as well, were racked with uncontrollable trembling and her knees felt unbelievably weak.
Even after shutting it close, the monster kept banging on the door.
“Why did you leave her alone? We should help her!” Seraphina exclaimed.
Valeriana focused on calming herself. “Listen,” she told the woman as she took in deep breaths. “None of that was real.”
“But . . .”
“You won’t believe how great special effects are,” she paused. “That woman had great acting too. Really. I felt like I just died a gazillion times.”
“It wasn’t real?”
“That’s the point of a Horror House—to scare, but not harm people. It’s for past time and entertainment.” Valeriana wiped off the sweat from her brow while panting. “So you have to keep in mind that you can’t just draw that thing out recklessly or you’ll probably kill innocent people who’re just doing their job.”
Valeriana pointed to the fully drawn, gleaming sword Seraphina held with her two, swift hands.
“You have to promise me that you will not use that thing here—at least, on people. I didn’t lead you here to murder someone after all. Now, for Pete’s sake, please put that away.”
Seraphina seemed disappointed and troubled as she sheathed her weapon. Once it clicked in place, Seraphina released a huge breath and began to contemplate how on Earth she would distinguish demon from human.
“I’m going to have to proceed without drawing my weapon against anything at all then. I’ll try not to unless I am sure who my enemies are.”
Valeriana nodded at her statement in satisfaction. “Alright. Now we’re clear.”
“Let us go. Who is Pete by the way?”
They spent the next few minutes walking around casually, checking door after door. The scenes were truly terrifying, and there were a couple of jump scares while they continued to circle the building. This Horror House wasn’t something for the faint of heart.
“W-where the heck are those demons you’re talking about?” she asked. “Can you just find them and get it over with already? Maybe they aren’t here at all!”
“Perhaps this door,” Seraphina told her, opening the one they were facing.
They were greeted by the sight of a beast chained to the wall, lying helplessly on the floor. His breath was heavy and soft growls escaped through rows of narrow-edged teeth. A few steps away from him was rotting meat.
Valeriana stared at the beast in silence, intimidated by the aura about him.
It roared so suddenly, making her jump. It pulled on the chains cuffed around its arms and feet as it attempted to lunge for the two.
“Close the door! Close it! Close it!” Valeriana cried.
Seraphina hurriedly did as Valeriana said and took a deep breath as the door slammed shut. “I have seen things worse than this, but I have to admit that your people are quite convincing. It is somewhat unnerving.” She trembled, probably from aversion.
“Is this the human idea of demons?” she asked.
“There are various other concepts, really. Demons are mostly related to religion. This should be an embodiment of how we imagined them to be, based on traditional beliefs or something. Either that or the Horror House just wanted to make it scary enough to frighten the heck out of people,” she told her. “Which is working.”
“Row, row, row your boat . . .” a child’s voice sang, wet footsteps on the pavement. “Gently down the stream . . . merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily . . .”
The pauses were too heavy to ignore, include the fact that the tone seemed soulless and solemn too.
“Life is but a dream.”
A chill ran down Valeriana’s back. In fear, she jumped and clung to Seraphina. “I don’t want this anymore. Please, just find your demons and let’s go!”
The wet footsteps continued and got even louder. “Row, row, row your boat . . .”
Valeriana restlessly looked around, but the voice seemed to be coming from behind them. “Come on! Let’s go!”
A rush of cold air swept past the two and a black shadow passed over their heads. Valeriana caught sight of it from the corner of her eyes and reacted by shrieking and jumping in fright.
The air around them got heavier. It was different from all the other elements making up the Horror House—too ominous to ignore.
The woman looked up at the ceiling. A swift figure of black made its way overhead. Valeriana, as well, caught sight of a pair of glimmering red eyes from where she stood.
Seraphina’s eyes narrowed. “I knew it.”
“Okay . . . is that it?” she asked.
Seraphina didn’t lose focus and responded. “Yes. Probably.”
“That’s not so scary.”
The demon turned to her. It coiled its body which was purely of black smoke and flew effortlessly in the air. It seemed almost nonexistent by the way it moved and how it appeared, but it was there.
It opened its jaws and shrieked, the high-pitched sound bouncing off the walls. Valeriana cowered and hid further behind Seraphina.
“I stand corrected!”
“It’s some sort of miasma demon, no doubt by the crude scent.” The woman’s nose flared as she took in the smell the creature carried with it.
“Try not to inhale too much. It’s poisonous.”
“How are you going to—”
Seraphina abruptly broke into a sprint. With a quick jump, she used the wall as a stepping stone and flipped backward, drawing her blade and swinging for the demon. Her sword whistled as it cut through the creature, causing it to burst into flames like before.
In the bat of an eye, the demon was eliminated.
“—kill it?” Valeriana finished, her voice trailing off. “I didn’t even see how,” she muttered.
“Are you alright?” Seraphina asked as she landed flawlessly.
“Yeah. I’m fine. I’m just a bit . . . chilly.”
A creased formed between her companion’s brows. She looked at Valeriana with a pair of questioning eyes as she sheathed her weapon. Seraphina reached for Valeriana’s hands. They were freezing. “Perhaps you got too scared?”
“That may be one reason.” She nodded.
“If one is near, the others are around,” Seraphina told herself. “Come on.”
The woman ran ahead, leaving Valeriana behind to follow.
The girl did not protest and ran after Seraphina. The singing girl from a while ago caught Valeriana by surprise. Although she didn’t get a good look at the ghost, she was dressed in stained, white overalls with long, black hair that dripped wet, hanging like messy curtains in front of her face.
Typical Sadako. Only singing.
“Why did I ever agree to this?” she asked herself.
Valeriana did not know the reason why there were so many demons thriving in the horror house. Seraphina had already managed to find more than five. She exterminated them with ease. However, the more they found, the more the woman seemed rattled.
Seraphina was facing a lizard-like creature this time. It crawled on the walls with swift legs that made it impossible to catch up with—at least for Valeriana. She never did anything, though somehow the tiredness was pulling at her muscles.
Seraphina landed a strike on the lizard with the pommel of her sword and it fell on the floor on its back. Seeing no other way to fight, the lizard stuck out its long tongue and attempted to throw off the weapon Seraphina held. It failed, however. The lady knight cut off the demon’s tongue before plunging her weapon into its stomach. Within seconds, it vanished into nothingness, flaring into flames before disintegrating eventually.
“I hope that’s the last of them,” Valeriana told her companion, panting.
“Far from it.”
She dried her sweat with the back of her hand, giving Seraphina a questioning gaze.
A wall of silence settled.
The woman looked around warily. They somehow managed to end up in a strange room filled with nothing but doors on every corner. Valeriana herself did not feel at ease.
All so suddenly, they all simultaneously banged open and heavy currents of wind rushed in. A flash of sickly green swept by. Seraphina held her sword steady as clang resounded and struck at her blade.
“A Formorian. I should’ve known,” the woman said. “The reason why there are so many here is because they’ve turned this into a hive. This here is the strongest and formed the horde. How many victims have they taken?”
The blood drained from Valeriana’s face as the words sunk in. “Please say this is part of the show,” she chanted under her breath.
“Valeriana, stay behind me.”
Valeriana moved to do as Seraphina told when a gust of wind blew past them.
Right after instructing the girl, the two of them were assaulted on all sides from every direction. Those attacks originated from the different doors that surrounded them. Seraphina somehow managed to instinctively avoid most of the heavy blows, leaving small scratches throughout her entire body.
When the attacks ceased, Valeriana could not help but feel relieved. “A-are you alright?”
“I’m fine. Are you hurt?”
Seraphina blocked most of the attacks. She had sworn to Valeriana that she would not let her get hurt. She was true to her words until the very end.
“Do you mind standing back?”
Valeriana obediently did so.
Seraphina took in a deep breath. “The sooner I get this done, the sooner I leave.”
There was a brief spark of the ominous presence behind one door behind them. Valeriana’s eyes snapped to its direction that she yelled. “Right there!”
Seraphina turned. Her arms moved sharply towards the direction Valeriana was looking at. In one moment, she managed to pierce the heart of the Formorian with her sword. The accuracy was astounding too. Valeriana could only land a short glance at its grotesque appearance before it burned into nothingness.
Valeriana was speechless. “You make your job look so easy.”
“I have to do that every day for the last two decades or so,” she said. “Let’s get out of here. These doors should lead somewhere.” With that, she sheathed her sword and relaxed.
As Valeriana opened her mouth to speak, Seraphina silenced her by raising her hand. She looked between each door, as though contemplating which path they should take.
“I sense a breeze blowing through this one.”
“That’s just the air conditioner.”
She confidently went through her choice, leaving Valeriana to follow her out. Despite having to go through another scary room, both of them were able to reach the main exit of the Horror House soundly without any further demonic encounter. The human girl could only breathe out in relief at this thought.
They came out to an open yard where people were huddled in small groups, discussing what they experienced from inside. Some girls and younger victims were crying and trembling within the arms of their companions, unable to handle the intensity of the scare they got. Well, if Valeriana was any younger, she would break down crying too.
Both left the premises and started traveling down the sidewalk.
“So it’s over.” Valeriana breathed.
“So it is,” the lady knight replied. “But there may still be others in your city. Considering how big it is, they might just not be staying in that Horror House.”
“You mean there are more of them?”
“The count is forty-eight. Just three more to go.”
She then pushed Seraphina to the direction of the nearby park, needing some space to breathe. After what recently happened, Valeriana ought to relax where she felt comfortable. It was really dark out, though. There weren’t many people outside now, and the park was basically deserted.
“Tell me that this won’t happen again.”
“I can’t guarantee that,” Seraphina told her, looking disappointed herself. “With the instability, it is easy for demons to escape into your world. Even now, some of the other knights are hunting them down.”
“You mean you aren’t the only one doing this kind of thing?”
“I’m not. There are others in the neighboring cities of this place. It just so happens that there aren’t many available knights to help in the hunt. I was assigned here.”
“Anyway, aren’t you going?”
Seraphina chuckled. “I’m sorry for dragging you into that. I really didn’t know what to do.”
“When I came here, I got arrested by a man who calls himself a police for pointing my sword at a man who was yelling at a poor woman.”
“He took me to jail, but I escaped.”
To say Valeriana was shocked was a total understatement at the moment.
“Afterward, I wandered for a few hours but saw no sign of what I was looking for. Before I know it, night had come. I knocked on the doors of a few houses to ask to stay for the night, but doors closed on my face and I had to sleep outside.”
“You are . . . oh, gosh. No wonder you asked for my help,” she muttered. “Are you hungry, though? Have you eaten anything?”
“A kind woman gave me food this morning and I had that ice cream as well,” Seraphina replied. “I’m really sorry. I wouldn’t have asked for your help if I didn’t need it.”
“No. No one else would’ve understood you if you asked them.”
She nodded. “And I thank you very much for what you’ve done today, for helping me hunt those demons down and buying me that treat. I’ll try not to rely on you when I need to find them shall I have to do it later on.” She then flashed her a grateful smile.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this but . . . let me know if you need help.”
They shared a smile.
She sensed Seraphina watching her as they continued to travel down the same path.
“How were you able to predict that the demon was coming from behind me?”
Valeriana didn’t know the answer herself. “I don’t know. It was strange.”
“Perhaps my hunch is right.”
“Your sensitivity,” she told her. “You can sense demonic presence.”
“I can what?” she echoed and turned to her in disbelief. “Maybe you’re just exaggerating things. That’s impossible.”
“Believe me, Valeriana. You are far from what you consider normal.” Seraphina made special emphasis on the last word as she watched Valeriana walk away from her with a heavy sigh, through a row of trees to a grassy field.
There was a strange whistle.
The lady knight stopped upon hearing the sound. Her expression turned hard and her body went rigid. “Valeriana, you have to go.”
“Hide somewhere. Now. Better yet, go somewhere else.”
“Is it another demon? Where is it?”
“Just do it!”
“Alright, um . . .” She spun around and walked ahead when she suddenly collided with a hard chest. Staggering back, she looked up and saw chocolate brown eyes boring into her own.
This man was similar to Seraphina in a lot of ways. The same style of uniform, but of a different color. He had light-brown hair with a matching pair of eyes that seemed to glow in the dark. His gaze was sharp and cold like it saw right into her soul.
Valeriana jumped and stepped back.
“Celeste Emmett?” Seraphina asked, stiffening when said man took a step forward. “Why are you here? I was assigned to this city.”
“A new batch of demons descended.” Emmett narrowed his eyes as he stared at Valeriana. “Who is this?”
“Obviously a citizen.” The face the lady knight had on her face was stoic and devoid of emotions.
Valeriana turned towards Seraphina with wide, confused eyes.
“I was just asking her about important matters.”
“Is that so?” His face held suspicion. “I saw a small demon around this park. I was chasing it since a while ago.” He then turned towards Valeriana, raising his voice purposely. “Perhaps you saw it?”
She looked at Seraphina, who gave her a pointed look.
Valeriana did not know what to say. So instead, she laughed—nervously. “T-that’s ridiculous.”
“Quit bothering the girl. She doesn’t know anything.”
“Do you take me for a fool?”
Seraphina mentally berated herself.
“No.” The lady knight ushered the girl away forcefully before running forward with her weapon drawn. “Valeriana, go!”
Valeriana took off running as fast as her feet could take her. The man glanced at her direction but had to divert his attention to Seraphina for her incoming attack.
Emmett pulled his own weapon free and parried the blow skillfully with one hand. “What are you doing, Seraphina? You are raising your sword against a comrade.”
“I cannot let you harm her,” she told him.
“Harm? Even if I didn’t,” Emmett began. “You’ve already gotten her involved.”
They exchanged blows, their blades ringing noisily with every clang. “Perhaps that is my biggest mistake,” she said. “I was foolish enough to bring her into this because of my own incapability to handle the situation.”
“I see you’re still not fully matured as a knight.”
“And for that, I take responsibility.”
“Foolish woman. That girl can see demons. That is not something a normal being of her kind is capable of!”
Seraphina took a swift turn, her feet shifting while she put in all her power in one swing. The clang was almost deafening as their blades clashed, sending waves of vibrations that stopped immediately as their weapons were pulled back as fast as they were swung.
The woman jumped back before rushing forward once more, determination burning in her vibrant blue eyes. Still, Emmett managed to fully elude her attacks.
He wasn’t serious. The fact that he was staying defensive made it obvious to the woman.
His eyes gleamed with no emotion, as though it didn’t affect him. Seraphina, with great effort, was slowly pushing him back. She truly did not know what she was going to do if the Celeste before her decided to go all out.
“Lady Seraphina, you are serious about this?”
“I am more than serious.”
“I see why you became one of the Celestial Knights. Virtuous and brave you are, but you lack one thing.”
Emmett then stepped forward, bringing his blade to willfully clash against her own. He gripped it tighter and struck from above, leaving Seraphina to bring her sword forward to protect herself.
They both paused as the man began to press down hard, letting a battle of strength take over. He knew that Seraphina made up for lacking in that particular area with her speed and techniques, so if things were to last any further, her body would give in from the strain. The woman was stronger than average females, but compared to Emmett, she was nothing.
She knew he was targeting her weakness. Gritting her teeth, she nimbly slid off the disadvantageous position and struck him from behind with the back of her sword. Emmett grunted from the blow but recovered immediately and turned to his opponent.
Emmett struck down at her hard. With a clang, her weapon came flying, landing on a bush nearby.
“It is over now, Seraphina,” he said. “You stand no chance in this fight.”