CASeries #1: KNIGHT
Chapter Forty-Six: Savior
“What just happened? Chavi, what just happened? She came out of nowhere and started going cray-cray, saying I just tried to what? Maybe I actually nearly broke that guy’s foot when I stepped on it—but that’s because he tripped me!”
Chavi’s whispers of comfort didn’t appease Valeriana’s nerves. After what happened, the girl wasn’t sure if she could go back to class and concentrate. Chavi hung out with her while she wallowed in worry. She didn’t know how long it took her trying to gather her thoughts.
“Oh my god.” She clenched her shaking fingers. “I feel . . .” She sighed. “I’m scared. Why? I just don’t understand.”
“That Julian jerk must’ve done all of this in purpose!” Chavi angrily remarked. “He must’ve staged some sort of accident and chose to blame it on you.”
“If that really is the case, we’ve got to make him admit it wasn’t me who did that to him!” she exclaimed. “But there’s something strange with Courtney too. When we had that thing going a while ago, I felt . . .”
“What is it?” her friend curiously asked.
“Never mind, maybe it’s just my guess . . . there’s no way a demon can enter the academy, right?”
“A demon?” Chavi sat back in shock. “You cannot be serious. If somebody else hears you . . .”
“I know. But there’s that strange thing I felt back then too, the day Zion challenged me. What do you think? Should I approach the headmaster and tell him about it? Maybe that’s the reason why Courtney acted so aggressively and it all makes sense now. But, even from the very start, she’s already had anger issues. So maybe I’m wrong.”
Chavi worriedly regarded Valeriana with her gaze. “I’m not sure . . . but if it will make you feel better, then go for it. I’m sure you’re coming from somewhere.” She then smiled at her comfortingly, hoping to cheer her up from the recent encounter. The girl leaned towards her and pinched the fifth-ranker’s cheeks, stretching it in an attempt to make her smile. Valeriana swatted Chavi’s hand away and growled.
“What are you doing?”
“Trying to cheer you up,” she answered. “Tell you what. Why don’t we do something else to keep your mind off of it?”
“I’m not sure. What’s your idea of relaxing, anyway?”
“I don’t know. A warm bath and a glass of milk.”
“A bath it is, then! How about we soak in the hot pools?” Chavi suggested. “The academy has sweet hot pools. I’m so glad they exist!”
After towing Valeriana away and dragging her into the hallway, they trod the path leading to the baths. Valeriana admitted it was a good idea.
Even so, the halls ran quite a length.
Once there, they started to strip off their clothes. Valeriana wrapped herself with a towel to cover her modesty. It wasn’t uncommon to use a towel while soaking and she needn’t be told twice.
There weren’t many people in the baths. In fact, aside from Chavi and Valeriana, there were only four other girls soaking in the pools. Usually, there would be more people, but today didn’t seem to be the usual.
“Ah, well, whatever.”
Valeriana and Chavi submerged themselves in the water. The warmth seeped into Valeriana’s skin, letting her muscles relax. She blew out a sigh and tilted her head back as she leaned against the wall of the pool, somehow glad Chavi suggested taking a soak.
“Let’s do this every day,” Valeriana muttered in ecstasy.
“Certainly. Why not?” Chavi giggled.
“I just want to forget there’s a Courtney, there’s an academy, and there’s a Twelve. I wanna forget everything about this world.”
The current fifth closed her eyes for a minute, relishing the comfortable feeling of warm water against her skin. Everything was oddly quiet for some reason, but she assumed that Chavi must’ve been relaxing as well so she dismissed the oddity. She was too lazy to open her eyes to confirm her thoughts.
The other girls were talking in one corner, giggling to themselves. “I heard a senior from the eighth year is planning on challenging Lord Corvan before the end of the semester.”
Sounds like good news, she thought.
“But nobody’s beaten him so far, right? The last guy hadn’t even lasted five minutes . . .” the other girl trailed off.
“If I even had the fraction of talent the Twelve had, I wouldn’t be so worried about keeping up with people from my batch . . .” her friend quieted and sighed. “I’m starting to be unable to bear the training. If it even goes farther than what my limits can take, I’ll have to drop out.”
“Are you serious? But you’ve lasted three years already.”
“It’s fine. I wasn’t aiming to become a Celeste. I’ll try to hold out next year and see if I can hitch a job as a soldier. That’s fine enough, right?”
“I guess, but I’m starting to feel dizzy,” cued in another girl. “I’m leaving. Are you guys coming, too?”
“Ah, but there aren’t even many people . . .” one complained. “But I guess I should. I still have next class.”
Valeriana was dozing off, listening to the other girls converse. There were movements in the water as they left the hot pools. There were wet footsteps that eventually faded, followed by the opening and closing of the door.
The current fifth-ranker cracked her eyes open to find Chavi, only to realize there were no longer anyone in the pools with her.
She jolted when a familiar shiver ran down her spine. She jerked, splashing the water around her. Valeriana took in a large breath as the hair on the back of her neck stood. Goosebumps prickled her skin, and although the water should’ve felt warm, it suddenly felt cold. Valeriana shivered and moved to leave.
She suddenly had a bad feeling. “Chav—”
She was cut off when something encircled her ankle. Valeriana gasped as she was suddenly pulled underwater. Although the bathing pools were supposed to be shallow, it suddenly became deeper for some reason and the floor she was sitting on a while ago suddenly disappeared like a bubble.
She shut her lips together tightly to prevent the air she last sucked in from escaping. Looking down, she saw bottomless depth. She withheld the scream that attempted to escape from her throat. Her hair floated wildly around her as the strange thing that wrapped around her ankle slowly started to pull her down.
It was a hand.
She kicked her feet but it was no use. The grip on her was deadly tight so she couldn’t break free.
“It’s cold, isn’t it?” whispered a voice and a pair of dark eyes emerged from the darkness, glowing like twin flames. Thousands of hands appeared, looming at her like torturous knives. “The worst kind of death is by suffocation. They say it hurts the most.”
“Who are you?” she mentally asked. “What the heck are you?”
Bubbles escaped from her lips. Her lungs began to feel tight and she fought the urge to suck in a breath. It was getting darker. Deeper.
The voice spoke once again and the eyes got closer, revealing a woman’s face with a sharp-toothed grin. “Aren’t you tired of fighting?” it asked her. “Let go. Let go of everything. Nobody cares about you here, do they?”
“No,” she replied. “Nobody here cares.”
“But someone else does somewhere else,” she continued. “And it is for them that I do what I do.”
She curled her hands into a fist and threw a punch to the woman’s face as hard as she could despite the thickness of the surrounding water. The exact opposite of how she wanted things to turn out happened and one of the many hands caught her fist. The grip on her ankle tightened, pulling her down even faster than before. The hands even wrapped around her stomach and bound her body tightly. One reached to her throat and choked her, forcing out the last bit of air she had.
She struggled to hold her breath and looked at the surface of the water to see the light fading—closing. Oh, gods, that freaking hole was closing. That doorway-thing that led to the baths . . .
“Don’t make this much harder for yourself,” it told her.
She grabbed hold of the hand around her neck and tried to wrench it off, but it was simply too strong for her to fight alone. Valeriana didn’t know what it was and she sure as hell didn’t want to know either. Her lungs started to burn for some air. She needed to breathe soon or she would probably die. Yet, the future remained bleak. She was going deeper each passing second.
Frustration welled up inside her as well as anger. She begged the gods, begged whatever or whoever it was who had the power to help her.
“Nothing will help you here. This is damnation,” it said. “Why don’t we form a contract? I’ll grant you the power you wish to take vengeance on the ones who deserve it.”
“Nobody deserves vengeance,” she told the monster. “Not the one avenging nor the one who’ll receive it.”
“You’re a smartass. Then die.”
She never felt so helpless. How did things end up like this? The hole was getting even smaller.
Gods, it felt like an eternity.
She then heard loud splashing from above and saw a figure swimming down towards her. Valeriana felt hope spark within her chest and she reached out to the figure pleadingly, face creased in discomfort. She needed air so bad. She wanted to breathe.
The figure swam towards her, holding out a hand for her to take. She grabbed it in desperation and felt the comfort of warm hands encircling her wrists. But then, she almost gasped at what she saw if it weren’t for the fact that she remembered she was currently submerged in water.
She blinked rapidly, not knowing if she was imagining things.
He started pulling her up to the surface, but the hands only tightened more, squeezing her neck. At this point, Valeriana couldn’t hold it in anymore. She coughed as the water forcibly went through her mouth—down to her lungs.
To say the least, it tasted horrendous. But she wasn’t in any position to complain. Her vision blurred.
“What do you think you’re doing? You are not taking the girl! Join her if you wish!”
The hands shot forward to attack Corvan, but the first-ranker was a fast-thinker.
Frustration crossed Corvan’s face for a moment before he pulled back one hand and clenched his fists. He looked like he was trying to force something out.
She opened her mouth and pointed to her throat, trying to tell him she desperately needed to breathe. He seemed to have gotten the message and exerted some more effort. As Valeriana wondered what he was doing, his entire body erupted with flames, sending bubbles flying. His right arm was the only part of his body that did not have the fire, saving her from the injuries. The girl felt the warmth and was grateful for it.
Fire in water. What an impossible, impossibly beautiful sight.
There was loud shrieking as the thousands of hands backed away.
“Not fire! Not fire!”
Without warning, he reached out to the hand that gripped Valeriana with his flaming fists, causing it to flinch away and loosen its grip. Corvan tugged on Valeriana until she was finally freed.
Once she was up on the surface, she would probably learn how to appreciate air a little more than she did before.
Corvan started to pull her up, swimming as fast as he could.
Valeriana’s hold on him slackened as the strength was drained away.
When they thought that the creature finally retreated, it refused to give up. One, cold hand reached out to Valeriana once more and grabbed her wrist. It tried to snake around her arm and drag her down once again. Because of this, their journey to the surface stopped.
A couple more was reaching forward, though still wary of Corvan’s fire.
Valeriana frowned and overcame with frustration, she tugged her hand back and kicked the hands away harshly. Her endeavors, while successful, cost her. The bracelet she’d treasured so was tugged free from her wrist and sunk down the seemingly bottomless depths.
Valeriana opened her mouth in a silent scream. She tried to reach for it but Corvan squeezed her hand and tugged her away, his fire dying. She was helpless, lacking the strength to resist. All she could do was tearfully watch as her treasured bracelet vanished into the seemingly unending pit of dark water.
Once they reached the surface, Valeriana reached for something to grab onto. Her hands came around the edge of the bathing pool. She heaved herself out of the water, her lungs greedily taking in the air and coughing. She slumped against the floor, her muscles slack, yet tensed.
“Val!” Chavi knelt beside the pool and helped Valeriana out of it. “Are you alright?”
She looked back at the depths and attempted to jump in again but was stopped when a pair of strong arms came around her and kept her in place. “What are you doing, idiot?”
“Let me go! I have to get it!” she yelled at him.
“My bracelet!” she screamed.
“It’s useless,” he told her. “It fell with that demon. You cannot get it back. The unending depth you saw was world of its making. A place of nothing with no light and no warmth. An embrace of death. There’s no getting it back.”
She looked forlornly down into the water. The darkness disappeared suddenly. She reached into the pool and touched the floor. It was no longer there.
She lost it.
“That was the only thing from my home that reminds me it even exists.” Valeriana started to sob. He told her to take care of it especially. She owned it since she was five. How could she just lose it?
“You still have your things—”
“It’s not the same!” She hit the water and droplets sprayed to every direction. “I need it back!”
“Valeriana . . .” Corvan trailed off, turning away.
“Val!” Chavi exclaimed, reaching out to hold onto the wet towel around herself with her arms while she caught Valeriana’s with her hands.
Looking up, she saw the fact that he was blushing and Chavi herself was on the point of exploding from embarrassment.
She glanced down at herself and realized.
She was naked—well, partly. The cloth hang loose from her chest, dangerously on the verge of falling.
Face burning red, she screamed. Valeriana flung her hands in front of her and pushed the guy, causing him to fall back into the bathing pool with a splash. Valeriana scooted away and fixed the towel tightly around herself. Corvan gasped, his head poking through the surface.
“What’s wrong with you?” he yelled, rising. “I just saved your life, you ingrate!”
“Why the hell are you here?” She pointed accusingly at him.
Chavi helped her to her feet. “I saw what was happening and ran to get help.” She blushed. “He was passing by and was the only one I could ask help from. He didn’t want to enter at first . . . but I had to force him to . . .” she quieted.
“Where were you, Chavi?” Valeriana inquired, grabbing her wrist to reassure herself.
“I was going to get those.” She pointed to the bottle of scented lavender and scrub that were lying on the floor.
Corvan dragged himself out of the bathing pool, his clothes heavy and clinging to his skin. Excess water dripped from his clothes as he led himself out of the baths. “Valeriana, get changed immediately and follow me to Headmaster Kylon’s office.” He glanced at Chavi untrustingly. “And beware of people. The demon might be just anyone.”
“What do you mean?”
He continued walking. “We’ll discuss it later.”